IPL: Knights paint themselves the favourites ahead of Sunday's final

Will Chennai prove to be Gautam Gambhir's lucky charm again?

KKR's Mitchell Starc, Andre Russell, Ramanullah Gurbaz leap in joy over Travis Head's wicket
KKR's Mitchell Starc, Andre Russell, Ramanullah Gurbaz leap in joy over Travis Head's wicket

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It seems a Kolkata Knight Riders 2.0 has emerged this season.

A complete team performance saw them make short work of the Sunrisers Hyderabad, the only other side to show this level of consistency in the 2024 season, and throw down the gauntlet as title favourites in the final on Sunday, 26 May.

'Need a purple wave on May 26! Come on KKR fam!,' mentor Gautam Gambhir posted on his X handle, calling on fans to converge at the Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai.

If the two-time title-winning skipper of the KKR has resorted to some of his old faithfuls (read: Sunil Narine and Andre Russell) in an authoritative campaign so far, he may well be hoping that Chepauk works as his lucky charm again. After all, that’s where his men won the 2012 final.  

Do the Knights owe such a transformation, coming as it does after two lackadaisical seasons, to the magic touch of Gambhir?

The media hype would have you believe so — and there is no doubt that the carte blanche he was given by the owners has certainly given the former Indian opener and World Cup winner strength of conviction to stick to his game plan right through the season.

It’s a well-known fact that T20 cricket is a game of momentum. Much to their credit, the Knights never let their momentum slip throughout the 14 matches of the League stages.

There has been the occasional blip along the way — like the way Jonny Bairstow bludgeoned the KKR bowlers to power an under-achieving Punjab Kings to the highest chase in the history of T20 cricket — but the Purple Army have resisted its demoralising effect.

Looking back, not all of Gambhir’s decisions looked sound upfront — especially his biggest gamble: going for broke in the mini auction to get Mitchell Starc last December.

A price tag of Rs 24.75 crores for an ageing fast bowler, with no great T20 record to speak of and a history of breaking down with injuries, was a questionable choice — especially when young guns like a Gerald Coetzee went to the Mumbai Indians for less than a fourth the price.

However, Starc’s class soon told, despite a poor start. Leveraging his core competencies — the swing, his lovely use of the crease — culminated in the delivery that castled compatriot Travis Head in the powerplay at Narendra Modi Stadium on Tuesday evening, 21 May. It certainly set the tone for the match.

Full credit to the bowlers for restricting the Sunrisers to a below-par 159, of course. Even that relatively modest total would not have been possible but for skipper Pat Cummins’ cameo.

This despite the pitch that seemed to have been set up for the batters, with the dew making chases easy at his venue.

In the end, the chase may not have been as electric as the one the Phil Salt–Sunil Narine duo had been forging, but Afghan dasher Ramanullah Gurbaz showed he was ready to play Salt’s part.

The breezy 97-run partnership between skipper Shreyas Iyer (58 not-out) and Venkatesh Iyer (51 not-out) made it a one-sided affair in the end.

As it happens with the finalist from the first qualifier, the Knights will now get a four-day rest to recover and prepare for the final in Chennai on Sunday, 26 May.   

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