Two nights after being pipped by a late Faf du Plessis onslaught that cost them a four-day break and a direct entry into the final, Sunrisers Hyderabad did it the hard way at Eden Gardens. They snapped a four-match losing streak by beating Kolkata Knight Riders by 14 runs to enter their second IPL final and have another crack at Chennai Super Kings, who they are yet to beat in three attempts this season.
"It was a great fighting effort from the lads," Sunrisers captain Kane Williamson told Star Sports. "The game ebbed and flowed. Kolkata are an outstanding side, they deserved to be here and the game could have gone either way, but it's nice it fell our way in some crunch moments. Credit to the way the boys finished off the first innings to get a very competitive total. The game was slipping away at the start of the chase, but we knew if we held strong and picked wickets through the middle, we could squeeze. We've now got another game of cricket left."
After being asked to bat, Sunrisers were struggling at 134 for 6 in the 18th over. Rashid Khan, however, smashed an unbeaten 34 off 10 balls to lift the total to 174 for 7. He then claimed 3 for 19 with the ball, including the key wickets of Chris Lynn and Andre Russell. In addition, he effected the run-out of Nitish Rana, who was promoted to No.3 to counter the legspinner's left-handedness. Rashid capped the night with two catches in the last over.
"He (Rashid) was brilliant but he's got another game, so we're going to keep him wrapped up," Williamson said. "The final is our focus now. As a team, we fight until the very last ball and we showed that today. It's a real team effort. Rashid was certainly the Man of the Match and he was brilliant, but a lot of guys chipped in. It's a great fighting effort, which is the attitude we want to see from Sunrisers."
Sunrisers had made three changes coming into this knockout bout. They left out Manish Pandey, their costliest signing at USD 1.6 million (approx) INR 11 crores, after he had managed only 284 runs in 13 innings. at a strike rate of 115.44. Instead, they backed Deepak Hooda in the middle order and recalled a fit-again Wriddhiman Saha in place of Shreevats Goswami. Williamson underlined the importance of balance without losing experience as a key reason for the move.
"The thing we didn't change was our balance [despite the changes], he said. "We did make some adjustments because we had injuries obviously. Saha was injured, but he came back and it was nice to have his experience. [Shreevats] Goswami contributed well, got some exposure, but for us to have that experience in the final was a big thing. Every one of those guys in the squad have played a huge part, whether it's on the field or carrying drinks. It's been a huge collective effort, but we still have another game of cricket left."
Shakib Al Hasan, now into his third IPL final and his first with Sunrisers in his debut season, gave a peek into the spirit in the team. Williamson also touched upon it as he spoke of Carlos Brathwaite. The West Indies allrounder had conceded 20 runs off the 18th over against CSK, but Williamson still backed him to defend 18 runs off the final over at the same venue, where he had hit Ben Stokes for four sixes to deliver West Indies' second World T20 title two years ago.
Brathwaite took the wickets of the well-set Shubman Gill and Shivam Mavi to close out the game. "Carlos will be happy because he might have thought he was responsible for the loss against CSK, even though he really wasn't, and might have taken it personally," Shakib said. "The way he came back today was terrific."