Knight Riders complete perfect turnaround
Where they finished
Winners, for the second time in three years
What went right
After what seemed a customary start, everything. Match by match, brick by brick, Kolkata Knight Riders built themselves into a formidable team with rock-solid foundations, something they needed to withstand the rampaging Kings XI Punjab team in the final. To win nine games on the trot was no mean feat; to do so after losing five games out of seven was truly special.
Knight Riders' bowling prowess was never in dispute. With Sunil Narine continuing to be the mystery he has been in the two previous seasons, the team only gives their opposition a maximum of 16 hittable overs. That is 10% of the game in your hand even before the start of the match. Add to that the potency that Shakib Al Hasan's left-arm spin has brought to the team this season and it's easier to see why even a team like Kings XI Punjab have struggled against them. With an economy of 7.51, Knight Riders were the most difficult attack to score runs against.
It was Knight Riders' batting ability that was under some doubt and the results in the first seven matches only accentuated it. Unlike most other teams, they didn't have any explosive players. But unlike other teams, they didn't need that too much because of their strong bowling. What they needed was consistency, some clarity on their batting orders. And it came when the team landed back in India. Gautam Gambhir had shaken off his misery at the start of the tournament and was scoring runs and Robin Uthappa's promotion to the top totally swung things around.
After two losses in their first two games on the India leg, Knight Riders rode along with Uthappa to chase down five targets in five matches - all of them with ease. Among those five, the six-wicket win against Mumbai Indians was the tightest one, showing the high note their batsmen had hit. Uthappa piled on runs with unheard of consistency; the rest rallied around him to soon make it eight wins in a row as Knight Riders marched to their second final in three years.
In the final though, Uthappa failed, so did Gambhir after their bowling had already cracked under Kings XI Punjab's onslaught. Faced with the gargantuan task of chasing down 200, Knight Riders eventually quelled the doubts about their big-hitting capability. Manish Pandey and Yusuf Pathan powered 10 sixes between them during a 71-run stand between them. Then just at the right time, Piyush Chawla hooked Mitchell Johnson for a six too, rounding off a perfect campaign.
Seven of Knight Riders' nine wins came batting second. It was no wonder they chose to bat second in the final and even though it looked like the plan had backfired, they managed to pull it off.
When the league had moved back to India, Robin Uthappa, with 97 runs from five matches, was 23rd in the list of leading run-getters in the season, 203 behind Glenn Maxwell. In the next 10 matches though, Uthappa added 558 from 10 matches, driving past everyone else in the race and assuming the lead position. It has been some acceleration from Uthappa, who was thought to be a spent force in the IPL circuit. His remarkable run though not only brought rewards on a personal level - he is back in the national team for the tour to Bangladesh - but it also lent Knight Riders concrete-like solidity. With a lowest score of 40 in 10 innings (before the final), Uthappa became to batting what Narine was to Knight Riders' bowling.
For someone who smashed the ball around to register the fastest IPL fifty, it would probably be a bit harsh to say he was the weak link in the team. But it is not actually. Take out that 72 and all Yusuf Pathan has to show are 196 runs from 11 innings. He threatened to play an important role in the final, but left the team in lurch after giving them hope. In four season with Knight Riders, Yusuf has received so much support from his team management but has only had a spike or two to show for it. When Knight Riders were struggling to start well in the early stages, a lot depended on Yusuf to take the team to safety. However, he continued to falter game after game. Gambhir turned around his poor run, but not Yusuf. In India, he had the advantage of strong starts, but still couldn't fire, continuing to live up to the billing of the promise that never was.
For someone rated as one of the best allrounders in international game, Shakib Al Hasan had played smaller, defined roles in the Knight Riders set-up in the past. Bowling has been his stronger suit, but this year Shakib raised the stakes as a batsman. His 227 runs gave the fragile middle-order some girth and his ability to ramp up the pace of scoring lent much-needed intent. It all came together in the match against Royal Challengers Bangalore when he partnered Uthappa in a 119-run stand for the fourth wicket that took less than 12 overs and scored 60 off just 38 balls. Shakib's all-round form kept Jacques Kallis, a proven stalwart, out of the Knight Riders' XI.
Chris Lynn's acrobatic effort at the boundary in the match against Royal Challengers helped Knight Riders sneak out a two-run win has to be the wow moment. It was a catch that one cannot rehearse during practice and is likely to remain part of cricket's freak moments show reel. As he moved to his left, Lynn slipped, then steadied himself on his one knee, kept eyes on the ball, dived backwards and managed to keep the composure to stay inside the boundary. The catch won Knight Riders an important match during the early stages when their batting was suffering collapses in almost every game.
Veer Pratap Singh, Sayan Mondal, Kuldeep Yadav and Debabrata Das
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo