Knight Riders' big leap to glory
Team unity help Gambhir’s men grab their maiden IPL title after four years of despair
Sunday night belonged to the Knights from Kolkata. When Gautam Gambhir lifted the IPL-5 Trophy after stunning defending champions Chennai Super Kings by five wickets here at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, the moment may have wiped out painful memories of innumerable defeats, unending despair and embarrassing controversies.
That they clinched the title with two of their finest performers contributing virtually nothing only made the victory more special. Through the tournament, Gambhir had been Knight Riders’ best batsman while Sunil Narine was their most successful bowler. So, it was obvious to assume that Gambhir (tournament’s second top scorer with 590 runs from 17 matches) and Narine (the second highest wicket-taker with 24 scalps) held the key to Kolkata’s fortunes in the final.
The two, however, did precious little on the most crucial night for Kolkata. Narine, the off-spinner who has been an unsolved puzzle in the tournament, was first dismantled by a rampaging Suresh Raina and Gambhir was cleaned up by Ben Hilfenhaus in the opening over of a daunting chase. The stars, it appeared, were once again aligned in favour of the Super Kings. The Yellow brigade was the overwhelming favourite to win the match and complete a hat-trick of titles.
But then, as MS Dhoni had pointed out in Saturday’s press-do, the final was an occasion for someone to emerge a hero. Little did the Chennai skipper realise that that someone would be answering to the name of Manvinder Bisla. Having got into the 11 more by accident than design, the Himachal stumper played an innings of uninhibited stroke-play that took the wind out of Super Kings’ sails.
But then again, for Gambhir & co the season has been all about team effort. “Since the first press conference I did, I’ve said I hate to talk about individuals,” thundered the Kolkata skipper when asked about some standout individual performances. “KKR has never been about one individual, whether that’s me or someone else. That is what we wanted to prove to the entire country. It’s the team that wins you games, not individuals. Each player is bound to contribute, they don’t get selected just because they look good or they have something special. A bowler is picked to do a job and a batsman is picked to score runs. I still hate to talk about individuals,” the left-hander remarked.
The journey towards redemption began when the franchise took a bold decision to not to bid for Bengal’s favourite son Sourav Ganguly. In Gambhir, the team management saw a no-nonsense leader who was capable of leading from the front. Not just Gambhir, but their other buys too clearly showed meticulous planning. Whether it was internationals like Jacques Kallis and Yusuf Pathan or domestic players such as Iqbal Abdulla and Rajat Bhatia, Kolkata had their future course well charted out. Even in the last player-auction, their successful but aggressive bidding for Narine, an unqualified success of this season, proved Kolkata had done their home work.
The efforts didn’t yield immediate results but certainly there were encouraging signs. A late surge in the previous edition saw them finish fourth while a consistent show this year saw them finish on pole position.
Much as Gambhir may undermine captain’s role in a team game like cricket, his contribution will not go unnoticed. Not only was he prolific with the bat, but he was aggressive on the field demanding more than 100 per cent from his players. The way he backed a struggling Yusuf Pathan despite the right-hander’s prolonged travails, reflected Gambhir’s leadership qualities. While it’s true that a captain is as good as the team, sometimes the converse can also be true.