Halfway through the league phase, Kolkata Knight Riders had only won two matches out of seven. Few would have imagined they would pick themselves up, win nine in a row and go on to lift their second IPL title in three seasons. After Knight Riders chased down 200 to win the final against Kings XI Punjab, their captain Gautam Gambhir credited his players for being able to absorb pressure and come up with crucial individual performances whenever called upon.
"A lot of credit needs to go to the entire team," Gambhir said. "I think they were ready to absorb a lot of pressure, and where we were after the first seven games, not a lot of people must have given us that chance that we're going to be here, lifting the cup. It's been unbelievable belief and contribution from everyone. Guys really chipped in when they needed to."
Asked what the mood in Knight Riders' dressing room was like after Kings XI had posted 199, Gambhir said he always felt they could chase it down. Knight Riders had extra belief, he said, after their chase of 161 in 14.2 overs against Sunrisers Hyderabad to seal a top-two finish in the league phase.
"This is such a ground where it's difficult to defend," he said. "You always have that belief, if we can get the target to five overs, 50 or 60, we can always win the game, and I think Manish [Pandey] played an unbelievable knock, supported by Yusuf [Pathan], and then guys chipped in, someone like Piyush [Chawla] hitting that very important six. I think 199, we always had the belief we're going to chase that down, especially after what we did against Sunrisers."
Pandey, batting on his home ground, smashed 94 off 50 balls to take Knight Riders to the cusp of victory. Having received the Man-of-the-Match award for his effort, Pandey said the IPL was a fitting end to a superb domestic season for him - he had been part of the Karnataka side that had won the Ranji Trophy, Irani Trophy and Vijay Hazare Trophy.
"We have got four achievements, and IPL is the cherry on the cake," he said. "I thought this was an opportunity to get runs. I've been playing here for a very long time, I think it was great scoring in the final game."
Gambhir said the decision to buy Pandey at the auction paid off. "When we picked Pandey, we had a lot of faith and trust in him. He has delivered when it mattered the most," Gambhir said. "Not many franchises would have continued with him because he had struggled with his form. But we always felt he had the talent and fearlessness to go out and play this kind of an innings."
He added that the franchise got the balance right at the auction. "When we went into the auction, we wanted a good bowling attack," Gambhir said. "A lot of teams might have thought of having a very good batting line-up in the T20 format. A strong bowling attack takes a lot of pressure off batting."
George Bailey, the Kings XI captain, was magnanimous in his praise for the winning team and for Pandey. "That was certainly a game worthy of being called a final. It was outstanding," Bailey said. "Hats off to Kolkata and in particular Manish. That was a hell of an innings. The amount of times we took a wicket and he hit the next ball for six, it was ballsy batting and it really paid off. Full congratulations to them, they really deserved it."
Kings XI had topped the league table on their way to reaching their first final in seven seasons, and Bailey said he was proud of his team's achievement.
"It's been an amazing ride," he said. "We've got a very, very special bunch of guys. We've got a wonderful feeling. We have had a wonderful tournament, and another great game tonight, so our boys can really hold their heads up very, very high."