Knight Riders v Kings XI, IPL 2014, final, Bangalore June 1, 2014

The unfancied boys who never backed down

The IPL has derived its star value from players who tug at the fans' heartstrings. Yet on the biggest day of the season, it was five unfancied boys who demanded the spotlight and eclipsed everyone else

Wriddhiman Saha breezed past a circumspect start with some calculated hitting © BCCI

"We want six, We want six, We want six." It is a chant the M Chinnaswamy Stadium is fond of. Kings XI Punjab were loaded with some of T20s most wanted, but the man enabling the Bangalore crowd's rapture was the most unusual of suspects. Wriddhiman Saha performed his regular mandate - easing a rocking ship - and went on to collect the highest score in a T20 tournament final. Yet his 115 off 55 could not script victory.

Four of Manish Pandey's boundaries came right after a wicket fell. All of them - a four off Mitchell Johnson and three sixes off Karanveer Singh - were defiant reminders for Kings XI to stay vigilant. The target he faced was the most demanded by a T20 final. He was the first Indian to three-figures in the IPL, yet since that breakthrough innings in 2009, his stocks had dipped. On Sunday, there was little of the scratchiness that usually disturbed his flow and he was able to translate intent into runs, 94 of the match-winning variety.

His greatest threat were two little-known spinners. Akshar Patel has squeezed and hoodwinked some of the most hard-hitting batsmen with nothing more than unyielding discipline. In Bangalore, with Knight Riders comfortably chugging along at 10 to the over, Akshar's figures read 4-0-21-0. Karanveer had played only one T20 before being thrust into the IPL cauldron, but the reason for his fast-tracking was understandable as he lulled the batsmen with his flight and drift. He claimed all his four wickets that way. Hardly the performances you'd expect to end up second-best.

Manan Vohra would feel similarly aggrieved. Kings XI's choice to retain him had seemed decidedly left field and further questions were brandished when he was benched for a majority of the campaign. Yet since breaking into the XI, he has left no one in doubt about his value. A steely innings of 67 was another example of his ability.

The IPL has derived its star value from players who tug at the fans' heartstrings. The Chris Gayles, the Virat Kohlis, the Virender Sehwags and the Lasith Malingas and other bankable, familiar performers are responsible for much of the tournament's allure. Yet on the biggest day of the season, it was five unfancied boys who demanded the spotlight and eclipsed everyone else. For an event that paraded its USP was enabling fledgling players to savour the big stage, the 2014 final was their best advertisement.

Saha and Vohra, arguably, had to face the more difficult set of bowlers, who had already gained a firm hold over the game. Defusing Narine when he had the comfort of a scoreline that read 58 for 2 after 10 overs requires a specific mixture of skill, clarity and some luck. The pitch was gripping and Piyush Chawla and Shakib Al Hasan ripped past the outside edge on multiple occasions. Both batsmen were basically surviving until they decided to shelve their doubts.

Saha chose to do that against Knight Riders' wiliest bowler and Vohra targeted their quickest. The ease and frequency with which they dictated terms in the latter 10 overs, which cost 141 runs, almost tempted one to wonder why they hadn't come out swinging earlier. Knight Riders had been content to let them run their course and it did seem one of them would give sooner or later. Yet the events that transpired only added sheen to their efforts.

Saha clobbered Narine for two fours and a six in the 14th over. His confidence seeped into his footwork and his bat face arced down at all the appropriate angles, especially when he drove between cover and mid-off. Hacks through midwicket and square leg were less pretty, but adeptly placed nonetheless. He had been 21 off 19 in the 11th over. By the end of his innings he laid claim to the IPL's only century in the final, at a strike rate of 209.

Vohra was remarkably sedate at the start. Perhaps it was the glare of a big occasion that persuaded him from the mad dash he has been known for this season. Yet when Morkel chose to ignore a natural weapon - his bounce - and go full, Vohra was alert enough to pounce. A flick over midwicket screamed to the boundary and a one-handed scythe over point travelled the distance. A shot that signaled something that united all five players - none of them were going to back down.

"Ballsy" was how the Kings XI captain George Bailey described Pandey's innings. Knight Riders had lost Robin Uthappa, their trump card, early. Gautam Gambhir has not been at his best throughout the tournament. But in Pandey's company all he had to do was find a way to get to the other end. Pandey is fond of pressing forward, even against the express pace of Mitchell Johnson. He is also partial to the midwicket region and he was unfailingly brutal on pulling anything outside his half to that boundary - 34 of his runs came in that region, including four fours and two sixes. He could have been probed outside his off stump a little more, but only Akshar managed to do that.

It wasn't just Pandey who was having difficulty manoeuvring Akshar. Nearly every batsman found himself stalling. Knight Riders were 87 for 2 when Akshar was introduced and he began conceding only two runs. But at the other end, Parvinder Awana got smashed for 18 in the very next over. Yet Akshar toiled away. Only three runs came off the next over and he came within inches of dismissing Pandey. But his colleagues were far more generous. Another 18-run over replete with a half-tracker and a full toss, this time from L Balaji. In his final over, Akshar had to lend menace to an equation that was 21 runs in 18 balls. He conceded only six.

With the seamers becoming cannon fodder, Bailey's only option was to use Akshar to tie the noose and enable Karanveer to bait the opposition to stick their necks out. The downside of that plan was the legspinner conceded more than one-fourth of the target. But in the process a gung-ho Yusuf Pathan met his end, Ryan ten Doeschate fared no better and even Pandey holed out thinking he had been gifted a half-volley. Three strikes that dared Kings XI supporters to regain their voice. One more and who knew how tense things would've been.

All five players fed off their belief. They would not let an equation get the better of them. They would not yield just because they were up against international-quality players. However, only one of them went home with the winner's medal.

"I just give myself a lot of chances," Pandey said after he was adjudged Man of the Match, "I'm very optimistic all the time and I love to play [in] the crunch game. It's really fun and I've always done well, so I'm very happy. We got 10 in the first over and I though if we just kept playing like that we would get 200 in the 20 overs. That was my very simple gameplan."

Bailey was out for 1, Maxwell for a duck. Narine and Morkel were thumped for 40 and 46 respectively. So don't believe Pandey. Those five only made it look simple.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ashok on June 3, 2014, 15:04 GMT

    Saha has been the surprising find of IPL7. I never thought he was capable of hitting a Century at a S/R of 209. That was magnificent! Dhoni was once considered the best Finisher in the game. But in the semi's, he did not even reach a S/R of 150 - whilst Raina got his 87 in 28 balls! KXIP lost the Final after scoring 199. It showed once again the importance of economical bowling whether slow or fast. Punjab had just Patel, the LH spinners, in the economy category. On the same pitch where Narine the best spinner failed, Patel showed his class. He does remind me of Bapu Nadkarni who was deadly accurate in Test matches - I recall his spell of bowling 28 maidens out of 32 vs. England in test. Have we got Nadkarni's clone in Patel? Manish Pandey after a relatively average IPL saved best for the last & won the Championship for KKR. Shah Rukh must have been thrilled to see it. Strangely enough Neither Raina, Pandey nor Patel are selected for Indian squad touring England & Saha is reserve WK!

  • D on June 3, 2014, 10:09 GMT

    I for one liked the Indian pitches and boundaries just as they were. I'm NOT looking for all pitches and boundaries in all regions of the World to be identical - that would be insanely boring. In India, the conditions favour batting so it's up to the bowlers to show some resolve and conquer the conditions. Narine has found a way to succeed in these conditions so why can't superstars like Steyn and Johnson? Varying ground conditions from nation to nation represent a development opportunity for bowlers and batsmen from which they can grow, adapt and learn new skills. So if you're an Indian batsmen in Australian conditions or an Australian bowler in Indian conditions, start figuring out the conditions and stop the whining already.

  • Yousuf on June 3, 2014, 5:53 GMT

    @ THEBIGBOODHA You have mentioned "in these conditions" alot and then you said steyn is the best bowler in the "World". Well these matches were also in a different part of the world where WORLD'S best fast bowler was carted around by everyone and his partner a young Indian bowler with not much pace got more wickets at a very less economy rate "in these conditions". I can also say that steyn a failed cricketer in a domestic league like IPL has been made to look like GOD "in those SA conditions".

  • Jay on June 2, 2014, 23:45 GMT

    @TheBigBoodha: People have already got over such meaningless talk. This IPL clearly proved the BRIGHT future Indian players have; especially young ones who are on the fringe of making it to the top level. Your narrow-minded observation has little bearing on the quality of players lying in wait to take India to the top of world cricket. Wait and see my friend. This is exactly why the IPL was brought into fruition; to unearth the BEST Indian talent on offer along with quality cricket provided by seasoned veterans from the international scene. The more I see comments like yours, the more I am convinced how much the IPL has risen in terms of sheer brilliance and quality to seal the position as the apex of T20 leagues.

  • James on June 2, 2014, 19:59 GMT

    Bagels.a, Steyn has proven himself to be the best bowler in the world for over a decade. But in this IPL we repeatedly saw failed international bats like Raina look like Gods in these conditions. The batsman who won the final by slogging Johnson for six with a cross-bat village yahoo averages TWO in tests and FIVE in ODIs. I can't even remember his name - I just remember his stats. My point is not hateful. It is simply exasperation at the absurdity of the mismatch between bat and ball, and conditions which allow players with no technical quality whatsoever to look like heroes against great pace bowlers.

  • jayaesh on June 2, 2014, 18:06 GMT

    @ Thebigboodha, please learn to be gracious and give credit where it is due to these young players instead of looking to undermine there achievement with your hateful ramblings , i know you are hurt by the sight of young Indian cricketers take the centrestage but please rein in your hate.Whether you like it or not as the article says these five unfancied players upstaged the overseas pro.Secondly we also how Australia were slated 4-0 last April, but according to you only succeeding on fast and bouncy pitches is benchmark of cricketing excellence and while success in flat,low slow,turning pitches is equivalent to yahoo slogging.If your Johnson and Steyn are so good why can't they produce the goods in Indian conditions , is is that they can only perform with the crutches of fast and bouncy pitches and huge 90 meters boundaries .... entire set up is designed for one purpose- easy and cheap wickets.

  • James on June 2, 2014, 17:06 GMT

    What do you expect in these conditions? The entire setup is designed for one purpose - the slog. Super bats, tiny boundaries, dead tracks which render Steyn, Johnson and co easy pickings for unskilled yahoo sloggers. Can't wait to see the same contest in even conditions. We saw how well the Indian players prospered in SA and NZ recently- in all formats.

  • niaz on June 2, 2014, 16:31 GMT

    Left hand batsmen are better equipped to play against left-arm spin (Asker, Sakib). Sakib should have stayed a bit longer as he is KKR's only left hand batsman. Narine had an excellent first over. KKR was tying KXIP down. Then Chawla starts to leak run. Narine was brought in when Vohra and Saha had their timing perfected. While it was not a captaincy error, I thought it would be better if Narine bowled one more over after the first and Chawla not to bowl right after getting hit in the first. Chawla does not go for more than 10-12 runs in the death, because he spins a lot.. but sometimes he goes for that many runs even in the middle overs. Where as Narine and Sakib are more controlled. Its easy for them to tie batsman down. Also KXIP played a strategy to use Saha againt spinners avoiding Maxwell Narine matching. GG probably wanted to keep Narine for that. That probably backfired. KKR did enough to win it back though.

  • Sreedhar on June 2, 2014, 15:47 GMT

    Sorry I have forgotten to mention about one of the best players in this Edition of IPL. He is none other than the great Suresh Raina of Superkings as well as as the captain of younger team to BenglaDesh shortly. All his innings except a couple were treat to watch

  • Ashok on June 2, 2014, 13:14 GMT

    As in the Semi's between CSK & KXIP, it was a show where the Indian players dominated the scene in the IPL & Final. Saha's 115* @ S/R 209 was the most dominant innings of the match followed by Vohra's 67 at a S/R of 125- both for Punjab. Narine , Shakeeb & Morkel the 3 overseas bowlers failed to contain these 2. Facing a tough chase of 200, KKR relied heavily upon Pandey with his 94 @ S/R of 188 followed by Patha's 36 & Gambhir's 23 to seal the deal. Fancied big hitters, Bailey & Maxwell, were out for 1 & 0 resptly, for KKR. For KXIP, Johnson was the best overseas bowler but could not get Pandey out. In fact Chawla hit johnson for Six in 19th over to bring victory in sight. So the IPL Final turned out to be a battle in which the local players dominated the match & the result. Saha was easily the best player but was unfortunately on the losing side.KXIP would have been better off with M.Karthik & Dhawan than Awana & Balaji, to contain runs- Importance of correct choice of bowlers!

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