'We always had faith in Pandey' - Gambhir
Before the IPL final, Manish Pandey's record for the season had been modest: 307 runs at an average of 25.58 and a strike rate of 105.86. But the Kolkata Knight Riders team management had shown a lot of faith in him - he had been one of only five players who had played all their matches in the tournament. After Pandey repaid that faith with a match-winning 50-ball 94 in the final, Gautam Gambhir, the Knight Riders captain, said he always knew such an innings was around the corner.
"Chasing 200, in your home ground, I think he held his nerve and played a lot of unbelievable shots when we needed it the most and he was fearless as well," Gambhir said, speaking to ESPNcricinfo. "This format gives you the liberty that you can go out there and be fearless and he [Pandey] showed what fearlessness can do. There was a time when we had just lost a wicket and he still went after the bowling and those were crucial hits for us.
"So I think unbelievable innings and we had a lot of faith and trust in him. We wanted him to bat at No. 3. There were times when he wasn't delivering for us, but we always had that trust in him that somewhere down the line he is a quality batter and he will deliver it and cometh the hour, cometh the man."
The win gave Knight Riders their second title in three seasons. Gambhir said he felt "very relieved" when Piyush Chawla struck the winning boundary, considering where the team had been at the halfway stage of the tournament, with two wins in seven matches.
"It's difficult to explain the emotions at that moment, but, obviously, I was very relieved, because not a lot of people after the first seven games gave us that chance that we're going to be sitting here and winning the IPL," Gambhir said. "Winning nine in a row shows a lot of character and shows the strength and quality of the side as well. We always had that belief that if we played to our potential, it would be difficult for any opposition to beat us."
Robin Uthappa's 660 runs, with 10 successive 40-plus scores, was Knight Riders' most eye-catching individual performance, and while he termed it "phenomenal", Gambhir said Knight Riders' biggest game-changers in the tournament had been their middle-order batsmen and their bowling attack.
"Our actual game changers were people like Shakib Al Hasan, coming in at number five and scoring those very important half-centuries; Yusuf's knock [against Sunrisers Hyderabad], which made us finish number two [in the league table], which gave us two cracks at the final; Ryan ten Doeschate, he finished the game against Sunrisers; Surya [Yadav]; our bowling strength.
"When we got into the auction, we always had this in mind that we wanted to have a strong bowling attack, because if you see, most of the teams went in with a strong batting line-up, but we wanted to go the other way, because if you have a strong bowling attack, it takes a lot of pressure of your batting department. So we went the other way. Robin has been phenomenal, no doubt about that, because getting 650 runs in a tournament, a lot of credit has to go to him, but our game-changers, personally, have been our middle-order and our bowling department."
Gambhir himself turned a nightmarish start to the season - he scored just one run in his first four innings - around to rack up three half-centuries and earn himself a recall to India's Test squad for their tour to England. Gambhir didn't have a great time when India last played there, but he says he won't carry any baggage from that tour into this one.
"I'm not someone who looks backward," Gambhir said. "I'm always someone who wants to look forward. I don't want to take any baggage, going to England, [from] the last series. This is a fresh series, it's a new series, I want to go out there and do well.
"It's going to be a challenging tour, it's going to be a great tour, it's going to be a tough tour as well, and when you come out of these tours doing well, it gives you a lot of satisfaction, just as an individual, and it grows you as a human being as well. That's when you realize how you adapt to different situations and how you come out of those different challenges as well."
During the final Test of that 2011 tour, Gambhir suffered a concussion after his head hit the ground as he fell backwards while attempting a catch in the outfield. Troubled by blurry vision and nausea, Gambhir batted down the order, at No. 8 in the first innings and No. 9 in the second, and had to face accusations from sections of the media that he was scared of playing England's fast bowlers.
"People in India will say a lot of things," Gambhir said. "The day that thing happens [running away from fast bowling], I'll quit cricket, because my conscience is very clear. If I would have done that I would have never played cricket again.
"There was a time in this tournament when I batted at No. 3, against Kings XI, and that's when I realised, this is not the way I'm going to go about things. People can say a lot of things, that's their point of view, but deep inside my heart I know what was the fact and what is not. I don't have to prove to people what has happened at that stage."