David Hussey: Brendon McCullum has 'given everybody a fresh lease of life'
The team mentor praised the head coach's impact in creating an environment where "everybody's happy, everybody's smiling"
Kolkata Knight Riders were languishing at seventh position, with just two wins from seven games, when a fierce outbreak of Covid-19 halted IPL 2021 in India. The UAE leg, though, saw a change of fortunes. Stitching one win after another, they not only qualified for the playoffs but are now in their first final since 2014.
After Knight Riders' win against Delhi Capitals in Qualifier 2, team mentor David Hussey was all praise for captain Eoin Morgan, opening batter Venkatesh Iyer and head coach Brendon McCullum for leading the revival.
"I think the break in the halfway stage of the IPL definitely helped," Hussey said at the post-match press conference. "But I truly believe that Morgan is captaining really well, he's marshalling the troops, he's tactically very clever. The bowling changes have been spot on. I think that's contributed to our success this time around.
"Venkatesh Iyer is just a class player at the top. He is tall, a Stephen Fleming clone I believe. He has got a big future in the game.
"It's unheard of what he [McCullum] has actually done here. It's remarkable. We were seventh in the table and not playing great cricket, and he's just turned it around. He has given everybody a fresh lease of life. He's freshened up the place. Everybody's happy, everybody's smiling, and he should take a lot of credit. I know he won't because he's a very humble man, but he should take a lot of credit for what he has been able to accomplish in this part of the IPL."
Of the three, Iyer's contribution has been the most quantifiable one. He is the team's highest run-scorer in this phase, and on Wednesday, he once again dazzled with a 41-ball 55 on a difficult pitch, while Shubman Gill played second fiddle with a run-a-ball 46. But according to Hussey, it was Gill's cover drive on the first ball of the chase that "soothed the nerves" in the dressing room.
"Everyone knows he [Gill] is going to be a ten-year veteran of Test match cricket, one-day cricket and T20 cricket for India," Hussey said. "It's just how he gets there and how quickly he gets there. What he does is he gives the whole batting group a lot of confidence the way he goes out there. Just seeing him strike the first ball to the cover boundary soothed the nerves among the boys in the dressing room and the dugout. And everyone knows he's just such a classy player, intelligent player and I, for one, am just looking forward to seeing him grow as a cricketer and as a person."
For the final against Chennai Super Kings, Knight Riders will head to Dubai, where dew has played a big role so far with teams winning the toss opting to bat second to take advantage against a wet ball. Hussey had an interesting solution to make it a level playing field.
"I'm hoping the groundsmen spray the ground beforehand so that both teams get a fair and equitable game whether you bat first or bowl first. It's going to be a huge issue but we're just gonna execute our skills under pressure and who knows. We are really well planned and really well measured so if we plan well and execute well, hopefully we come out on top."
Another worry for Knight Riders could be the form of their middle-order batters. In 15 innings, Morgan has had ten single-digit dismissals, the most for any batter in a single IPL season. Dinesh Karthik, meanwhile, has scored only 91 runs in seven innings, at an average of 18.20 and a strike rate of 122.97, in the UAE leg. But Knight Riders are not losing their sleep over that.
"I'm not concerned because they're all classy players," Hussey said. "They know how to play. It's just the difficult nature of the pitches that we've been playing on, it makes the middle-order players sort of stand out. They're not getting their strike rates to 200, they have to knuckle down and maybe go at a strike rate of 110 to 120.
"But we've got full confidence in Morgan, Dinesh Karthik and Shakib going into the next game. They've done it countless times for their countries and in the IPL, so [we are] not concerned. We go to Dubai full of confidence and you just never know what's gonna happen."
In Dubai, Knight Riders could also consider replacing Shakib Al Hasan with Andre Russell, provided the latter recovers in time from his hamstring injury.
"Andre Russell's tracking nicely, I think," Hussey said. "He was bowling before the game today. So I think he might be in the mix [for the final]. I will have to discuss it with the medical staff first, but he has been doing all the practices, training lots before games.
"Fortunately, we have got an unbelievable medical team here. The physios work around the clock, so if anyone's going to get him up, it's going to be the medical staff. Knowing Dre, he will be desperate to play too. Hopefully, he does get up because he's one excitement machine.
Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo