Experiencing KKR's triumph from the inside
I happily concede that I lack the skills necessary to put into words the experience I've had with the Kolkata Knight Riders in IPL 5.
It seems forever since we set out on the journey with the rain-affected loss to Delhi, and now I'm already back home in Essex reflecting on a truly amazing two months. I've tried to use this blog to convey the perspective of a cricketer, the things you may not always see and the feelings that are unique to those on the inside.
I won't expand on the unbelievable chase on Sunday, the heroics of one Mavinder Bisla and the ultra-cool knock of Jacques Kallis. But here is my version of the peripheries of the last few days that I hope you might find interesting.
We arrived in Chennai on Friday night, in something of a holiday mode after three days rest in stunning Pune. The usual recovery session was done in the pool and things just seemed so far removed from the challenge of the final, I was a little uneasy at the lack of intensity in the group. By this stage the players are usually sick of the downtime and just want to get out there and confront the final challenge.
Saturday was a drag, a few of us went to the mall to do some shopping and try kill some time before our evening training session. I thought I’d made a bold purchase (baby blue chinos) only to be trumped by Bas [Brendon McCullum] who left with red chinos and a green leather jacket. The majority of the guys are relaxed preparers and the intensity of the practise was pretty light. It felt like an undertone of uneasiness surrounded the session, the injury to Balaji meaning that a variety of combinations could be used for the final, resulting in uncertainty over who would be playing on Sunday.
Our hotel rooms in Chennai had incredible sound systems, and the second floor had been turned into a music festival by Sunday afternoon, with personal choices varying from the insane to the ridiculous. Marchant [de Lange] joined me for room service and subjected me to some Afrikaans music, not really the stuff to bring out the best in the music system. I guess the thumping music was a way to deal with excitement as we were only a few hours away from match time. Wasim's net bowling makes him seem like he hasn’t aged at all, but he had a little moan about the loud music, so he must be getting on after all.
Then, it was on to our final team meeting, the last bit of preparation for a huge occasion. There was still the most relaxed feeling, almost like we were lacking intensity. Trevor's [the coach, Bayliss] final address to the team provided the injection we needed, literally like flicking a switch. He managed to draw our attention to every positive thing that had happened, the reasons for our consistency. He didn't talk about winning or losing, just the processes, and his final message was hugely powerful in relieving any tension: 'You guys deserve to enjoy today, nothing else'.
Gauti [Gambhir] had been the engine behind this campaign and weighed in with an equally impressive last speech. His message also steered way clear of any talk of Sunday’s result. All he expected was that we stand behind, next to, and if necessary in front of one another as we had done throughout this tournament. There was a massive feeling of pride running through the group at this stage.
Shah Rukh Khan had put together a little production that took inspiration to a new level. It was done in movie style … a lit up Eden Gardens the opening scene, Shah Rukh doing the voice over. I won't go into too much detail as it was a private matter but basically it said that after all the hard work, all the effort that had been put in for each other, for the owners, for the fans and for the city of Kolkata, Sunday’s game was for the ones we love. This was followed by messages of well wishes from all our family members: parents, kids, siblings, girlfriends, wives, nieces and nephews sending personal messages for all involved. As badly as I wanted to be out there playing, I was feeling so much a part of this and couldn't have been more involved if I was opening the batting and bowling. I felt as though I was going to part of something lasting and meaningful. We were game ready.
I can't speak for the guys on the field but apart from one or two production activities that night felt like any other match in the IPL, testament to our approach maybe. Although 190 seemed a very good score there was a genuine sense of belief that we could get that. I'll forgive anyone (self included) for having this faith dented after Gauti's dismissal. Watching the next partnership from the sidelines (Jacques Kallis and Bisla) was surprisingly relaxing. You have to stay up with the rate in a big chase and the guys managed to keep the required-rate at 10. So there was a feeling of control pretty much all the way through.
But by over 15, both the guys batting looked shattered. The intense heat of Chennai and seven weeks of hard toil were starting to show. Bis got out and walked into the change room to a Gladitorial reception, received as humbly as ever. It’s hard to explain how happy you feel for a guy like him at a time like that. That was dream-realisation stuff. But there was no time to get emotional, the game still needed to be won and our attention was quickly back to what was going on in the middle.
When Jacques got out, the game was back in the balance. A friend from home had said prior to the match that Jacques would be the big match player, and what a hand he delivered. Effortlessly controlling the strike while Bis was flying, then taking the reigns towards the end. More importantly than his runs, he was the regulator of heart rates for the guys having to watch the chase.
It was turning into an epic final and with eight balls remaining, I felt like we were coming second for the first time. All sorts of suggestions, advice, what ifs, if-onlys, wishes and prayers were being played out on the side … high fives followed boundaries, hands in heads or cursing followed dots and wickets. It really is easier to be out in the middle.
I like to be low key when celebrating but as that last delivery left Manny's [Tiwary] bat I almost unconsciously pulled back the dressing room door and ran onto the field. The elation and pride just came flowing out. It was the reward for hundreds of hours of practising, for the tactical preparation, for the disappointments of missing out, for messing up, for being away from family and friends for two months, for taking criticism, for receiving help, for standing next to each other. No wonder you see emotions at such times.
Second to the smiling faces of victory, Chennai Super Kings' graciousness in defeat stood out. I've shaken hands with disappointed teams on many occasions and have been disappointed myself on even more. It's easy to give a meaningless shake and be absorbed in your own disappointment. But Chennai were classy, both coaching and playing staff down to the last man, an important part to my finals experience.
Everything else is pretty hazy. It was a repetition of hugs, photos, chinging of beer bottles, smiles and shaking of heads. Our owners have been fantastic through thick and thin, and it's rewarding to see to see the level of pleasure this brought to them too. The next 45 minutes in the change rooms were what it's all about. As much as you play for fans, friends and family, it's the smelly sweaty exchanges with those on the inside that mean the most. An unspoken sign of appreciation for a combined effort, and a feeling to last a lifetime.