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Team spirit drives Knights' title charge: We are playng as a unit, says senior pro Rana

The kind of mindset the team looks to be in, it will rather be quite surprising if KKR don’t finish at the top at the end of the league stage

Our Special Correspondent Calcutta Published 13.05.24, 12:26 PM
The three impact makers for KKR this season — (from left) Sunil Narine, Phil Salt and Varun Chakravarthy.

The three impact makers for KKR this season — (from left) Sunil Narine, Phil Salt and Varun Chakravarthy. Pictures: PTI

The win over Mumbai Indians at the Eden on Saturday not just confirmed the Kolkata Knight Riders as the first team to make the IPL 2024 playoffs, but also kept them well-placed to finish the league phase as toppers.

The kind of mindset the team looks to be in, it will rather be quite surprising if KKR don’t finish at the top at the end of the league stage. Even in their three losses so far, it was only in the April 8 away game against Chennai Super Kings that they got brushed aside by seven wickets after managing a below-par 137/9.

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Among their other two losses, the inability to defend 262 against Punjab Kings at home did hurt them. Their bowling in that game was of course poor, but one also needs to consider the conditions that evening, which were heavily in favour of batters.

Besides, the Knights didn’t look for execuses following the eight-wicket loss to Punjab. The attention was paid to bouncing back instead of blaming the pitch and overall conditions.

“To be honest, all of us felt very bad that day (after losing to Punjab). That night, only three-four among us in the dressing room had eaten. It’s not that some were disappointed while some were smiling around. Collectively, we had felt the pain of that loss,” recalled Nitish Rana, who made his comeback to the XI on Saturday after a finger injury sustained in KKR’s opener against Sunrisers Hyderabad kept him out.

“And collectively, we have put our hands on the shoulders of everyone after a defeat. That is very important and was missing in the last one or two years,” Rana, who still has the middle finger of his left hand stitched, emphasised.

Awareness

Greater awareness in the camp this year has also turned out to be a guiding force for the players. “This is a result-oriented game where everything looks nice when you win. But it’s not that we have been spotless this time.

“There haven’t been any measured changes though. But there’s a sense of belief in everyone and we’re playng as a unit. In any sport, awareness is very much necessary, and that awareness is there in each and every individual in the group.

“For instance, when (Phil) Salt showed that anger in the dressing room this evening (Saturday) after getting out, one could gauge his disappointment of letting his team down. I was padding up then. I felt for him and egged myself on to try and do what Salt couldn’t. So, these are the sort of things we are doing collectively well,” Rana said.

Spin duo

Gautam Gambhir’s comeback in KKR as team mentor has obviously been central to Sunil Narine returning to open the innings and having a tremendous impact while doing that. Gambhir’s return has helped Narine restore his confidence with the ball too as the senior off-spinner so far has 15 wickets at a fantastic economy of 6.63 on most of these placid tracks.

A steady, disciplined Narine has also helped spin colleague Varun Chakravarthy (18 wickets) recover his rhythm and execute those lines and lengths, which earned him success in his early days in KKR. “Narine has been a perfect foil for Varun, who had a quiet last couple of years. But this year, his execution has been brilliant,” former England off-spinner Graeme Swann said at the Eden on Saturday.

Russell factor

Like Narine, Andre Russell too has revived himself, having contributed with both bat (222 runs, averaging 31.71 at a strike rate of 185) and ball (15 wickets) with strikes in crucial moments.

More importantly, Russell has been fitter and hasn’t had even a niggle this season, while the team management also got his batting order right as he didn’t need to whack right from the first ball he faced.

A stable, consistent opener like Salt has also helped KKR tick the boxes. The starts that the England batsman and Narine have given upfront has set many matches up for the Knights.

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