One win from an IPL made it double as a coach and player – Brendon McCullum still works hard in a gamble but now wears a stupendous beard. He has been a part of three eras in Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) from 2008 till now, watching them through the entire arc- from floundering to fearless; From being full of international stars to relying on uncapped Indians. Compared to the teams that won the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2012 and 2014, this is probably KKR’s worst edition. But what makes this journey more remarkable than the previous two successful campaigns is the team’s ability to emerge on the better side despite its obvious flaws. Most of the international stars are either out of form or injured while their captain Eoin Morgan is in dire need of an innings of confidence. This is not the ideal situation for an IPL finalist, not when you have teams like Chennai Super Kings or Mumbai Indians who have always maintained consistency in terms of a working core and unquestionable leadership. But under three different captains in three different eras, KKR are proving to be uniquely successful after overcoming the initial hurdles.
In 2008, McCullum’s 73-ball 158 was the only century for KKR and it gave the IPL the kind of bang it needed. But the team which also had Ricky Ponting, Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul, David Hussey and Chris Gayle finished sixth. What happened after that was worse. As the IPL shifted to South Africa in 2009, Sourav Ganguly went from being the only captain to one of the captains. “Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum and Ganguly will all captain KKR. There will be a nominated captain for each game,” said head coach John Buchanan. With three wins, KKR finished last and Buchanan was sacked; The franchise plans to build a team with him in five years after the debacle.
Buchanan was replaced by Dav Whatmore but KKR, with Ganguly and Cheteshwar Pujara in the middle order, finished sixth again; The low points of the campaign were a 54-run loss to Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and their inability to defend 200 runs against Kings XI Punjab (now Punjab Kings) at home. After three years of being consistently inconsistent and reason enough to ring in the changes, KKR decided to change the team again without Locke, Stock and Ganguly. “KKR had nowhere to go after three disastrous seasons,” said Joy Bhattacharya, the then director of the KKR team. “We had to do something. We needed top Indian batsmen, a core of at least two. We had nothing against Sourav Ganguly. But he retired from international cricket in 2008. To remain relevant till 2014. It was difficult to stay fit.
Enter Gautam Gambhir, a left-handed batsman who replaced the other as captain and went on to score 97 in the World Cup final, which helped India end a 28-year tussle. KKR CEO and Managing Director Venky Mysore, on whose idea the squad was overhauled in 2011, had said of the record $2.4 million dollar buyout of the franchise in 2018, “We were probably one bid away from not getting him. ” Gambhir gave KKR a period of stability – for the first time – which garnered two titles (2012 and 2014) and three more playoff berths (2011, 2015, 2016). This was a time when Shah Rukh Khan used to come for home games but he didn’t have to shake a leg to see people packed Eden. Yes, all eyes would be on his box when news broke that he was in the building, but in the upper levels of the clubhouse, they would also be calculating how much Robin Uthappa would have to score for the Purple Cap (In 2014, he totaled 660) Or how invincible was Sunil Narine.
Narine, who was bought for $700,000, announced his arrival in the 2012 IPL at the Eden KXIP host on a hot April afternoon. He took 5/19, was adjudged man of the match and although KKR lost, the IPL and mystery spinners joined on the hips. With 24 wickets, Narine was instrumental in leading KKR to the final, which they won, even as CSK’s Suresh Raina ruined their bowling analysis (4-0-37-0). On the slow and low tracks of Eden – not unlike what is happening in the UAE – Gambhir and new coach Trevor Bayliss (2012–14) will choke on away teams through a combination of Narine, Shakib Al Hasan, Iqbal Abdullah and the likes of Al Hasan. Yusuf Pathan. If the spin punch didn’t work during the tour, KKR had Brett Lee and Jacques Kallis on hand.
With the return of 22 and 21 wickets in the next two seasons, Narine has become an integral part of KKR’s playbook through various coaches and captains. His comeback to go into Friday’s final is 14 wickets from 13 matches, 11 of them in nine matches when the UAE resumes, almost as good as 2014 (6.35) with an economy of 6.44. It comes with repeated revamped action and with which Narine said he is yet to reach his full potential after Monday’s win against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Bhattacharya said, “Retaining Narayan in 2018 was a great call of faith.” “He was the top player in 2014 so it was wise to retain him. But in 2018 he was not the bowler he was in 2014. But now, Sunil is almost 90% as of 2014.
After the rebuilding of KKR in 2018, Gambhir focused on young and uncapped Indians for the Delhi franchise, which led him to invest in Shubman Gill, Shivam Mavi, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Rahul Tripathi and Nitish Rana. Barring Nagarkoti, who have played only once this season, all of them have been instrumental in KKR reaching their third final with two wins from seven matches. Unlike it was not in the 2012 final when another uncapped Indian Manvinder Bisla (89 off 48 balls) along with Kallis (69 off 49) took KKR home against CSK. The captaincy changed hands with World Cup winner Eoin Morgan and the third left-hander to lead the Knights in 2020, having been elevated from being one in the leadership group after Dinesh Karthik stepped down. But as Karthik led the team’s talks against Delhi Capitals on Wednesday, bowling from behind the stumps is proof of how important he is to Morgan, a man who with supreme confidence despite poor returns with the bat have led. “It’s a good insight into our team culture, young people are feeling free to express themselves,” Morgan said after Wednesday’s win. “The backroom staff has created an environment for them to do this. We have hope from the team we have. Hopefully, whatever strategy we have made, we can implement it.”