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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 25 June 2024

IPL 2024: Chennai connection in tale of turnaround, victorious comeback of KKR

Team principal owner Shah Rukh Khan decided it was time to bring KKR’s ‘Man Friday’ back to their family ahead of IPL 2024. And it proved to be a masterstroke

Sayak Banerjee Calcutta Published 27.05.24, 07:42 AM
Gautam Gambhir, the mastermind

Gautam Gambhir, the mastermind PTI

The Kolkata Knight Riders' trophy triumph on Sunday was perhaps predestined. May 27, 2012, Chennai — the Knights humbled Chennai Super Kings by five wickets for their first IPL trophy. Twelve years since that day, at the same venue, on almost the same date (May 26 this time), the Knights crushed Sunrisers Hyderabad for their third trophy. The similarity between the two events transcends the realms of being just a coincidence.

But going into this year's campaign, the Knights did not have a great past two seasons, having finished seventh in 2022 and 2023. So how did the turnaround happen?

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Team principal owner Shah Rukh Khan decided it was time to bring KKR’s ‘Man Friday’ back to their family ahead of IPL 2024. And it proved to be a masterstroke. Gautam Gambhir, under whose captaincy the Knight Riders won the trophy in 2012 and 2014, returned to the dugout as the mentor of KKR and the rest is history. Gambhir has now been associated with all three of Knights' victorious campaigns.

Following Gambhir’s comeback, consistency has been the spine of this Shreyas Iyer-led side. The involvement of almost each and every player was palpable, thanks to which, the Knight Riders didn’t have to rely on the heroics of one or two individuals to bail the side out. That is something that was also noticed during their triumphs in 2012 and 2014.

Coming back to Gambhir, one of the first things that the former KKR captain and ex-opener for India did was promote Sunil Narine back to the top to open the innings. That move worked wonders.

Of course, the solidity at the other end from England keeper-batter Phil Salt helped in taking the pressure off from Narine, who was given the license to go all guns blazing in the Powerplay. Importantly, Narine, 35, didn’t just throw his bat at everything, he put a price on his wicket.

Like Narine, Andre Russell also looked pedestrian at times last year. But this year, he has been solid with the bat and the ball. He rarely went berserk from ball one when he came in with the bat. With the ball, smart utilisation of his skills helped him to strike during critical periods.

Chakravarthy 2.0

Post-2021, Varun Chakravarthy had to experience periods of mediocrity with the mystery surrounding his spin bowling missing. But KKR continued to back him, and Chakravarthy has bounced back, becoming KKR’s highest wicket-taker in their IPL 2024 campaign.

Primarily a leg-spinner, Chakravarthy learnt the tricks of the trade watching Narine bowl. And even if his economy rate hasn’t been outstanding, he kept on striking at regular intervals while Narine dried up the runs at the other end. Chakravarthy has excelled in his use of the googly, his ability to read the match situation and has also intelligently exploited the weak areas of rival batters.

Iyer’s maturity

Inconsistency used to be a problem for Venkatesh Iyer previously. This year, he has made sure to address that issue. It will not be wrong to say that Iyer is a more mature player now.

He appeared to be at his best when batting at No.3, but even when he has batted in the middle over, he has made contributions that have carried significance for his team.

The Knights missed senior-pro Nitish Rana for almost the entire tournament, while skipper Shreyas had just returned following a back spasm that kept him out for long. Left-handed Iyer stood up to the challenge and delivered.

What next?

KKR will be having a big hole to fill if mentor Gambhir goes on to be appointed as the head coach of Team India after current chief coach Rahul Dravid’s contract ends following the upcoming T20 World Cup in the Caribbean and the United States.

Besides, Narine and Russell aren’t getting any younger and at some point, their reflexes will take a hit. So, it’s best for the franchise to take that into account and start preparing early, ahead of IPL 2025.

Both Harshit Rana and Vaibhav Arora, the former in particular, have impressed in this IPL. But it would be wise on KKR’s part to add another express pacer of international standard in their ranks.

And there is the buzz around Rohit Sharma. Will he turn up for the Knights next year? If he does, the Knights will only be stronger.

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