A true reward for consistency

The wait is over… a jubilant Kolkata Knight Riders team after its victory in IPL-V.-K. PICHUMANI

Belief and confidence are indeed intertwined, and it was Gautam Gambhir who rebuilt a team of self-doubt and disappointments into a potent force. Kolkata Knight Riders played to win. Over to S. Dinakar.

Belief can be everything in sport. Kolkata Knight Riders, banishing the demons of the past, oozed this quality. In the suave Gautam Gambhir the side possessed an attack-minded captain who instilled confidence in his men.

Belief and confidence are indeed intertwined, and it was Gambhir who rebuilt a team of self-doubt and disappointments into a potent force. This side played to win.

And situations threw up new heroes. None more than the unsung Manvinder Singh Bisla whose sensational 48-ball 89 amidst the pressures of a cup final enabled Knight Riders to successfully chase down a daunting 191 against the formidable Chennai Super Kings.

As fireworks rent the air and colourful confetti created dazzling patterns in the night sky, Knight Riders celebrated a remarkable triumph in IPL-V. For the franchise's colourful yet controversial owner, superstar actor Shah Rukh Khan, the images must have been big, bold and in cinemascope.

Crucially, Kolkata Knight Riders got the balance of its team right. In Gambhir (590 runs at 36.87 this season), it had a fleet-footed opening batsman who offered both stability and enterprise to the side.

The indomitable Jacques Kallis made vital runs including a well-paced 69 of authentic strokes in the final and bowled with heart and commitment. The strong man bent his back to hustle batsmen with well-directed short-pitched deliveries and then struck with fuller length balls.

Kallis' contribution with the ball and L. Balaji's craft and control meant Knight Riders could get away by fielding just two pacemen and playing three spinners. In the Indian conditions, the ploy worked. That one of its spinners, left-armer Shakib-al-Hasan, was an aggressive batsman added to the depth of the side.

‘Mystery Man' Sunil Narine led the spin pack. And the batsmen, save CSK's Suresh Raina in the summit clash, were often caught in a tangle. Narine spun the ball big both ways and operated stump to stump. His high arm action meant Narine was able to achieve bounce as well. In the competition, his ‘knuckle ball' did some damage.

The outstanding Narine scalped 24 batsmen at 13.50 (economy rate 5.47), impacting matches and line-ups along the way. He is evolving as a bowler and the batsmen often had to grapple with change of pace and trajectory.

Captain Gambhir shuffled his three spinners in a manner that reflected his tactical nous. And his field placements were creative. Knight Riders managed to create stress, put the batting side under pressure. Once the batsmen became desperate, the spinners struck.

Knight Riders did not blink too when it came to taking tough decisions. Dropping Brendon McCullum to accommodate Brett Lee in one of the four overseas slots to retain the balance in its bowling combination after Balaji suffered a hamstring injury was a brave move. McCullum can be a game-changing batsman with a sense of occasion and the Kolkata side could have picked an easier option by selecting a domestic paceman — both Jaidev Unadkhat and Pradeep Sangwan have played for the franchise this season — in place of Balaji.

Those who are brave make their own fortune. Manvinder, who took over as wicketkeeper-batsman from McCullum, emerged the knight in shining armour. The game is not all about names and the success of the 27-year-old Manvinder — he actually began his under-19 career for India as a swing bowler who could also bat — in the final is an endearing tale within a larger story.

As the competition wore on, Gambhir backed players who he believed could make a difference. Yusuf Pathan had an ordinary league phase but Gambhir kept the heavy-hitter in the side despite calls for his ouster. Yusuf responded with a game-turning, hectic 40 against Delhi Daredevils in Qualifier-1. And the likes of Manoj Tiwari and Rajat Bhatia contributed as the side's ascent continued. This Kolkata team had men for most situations.

Eventually, Knight Riders was rewarded for its consistency. The pacing of its innings was seldom awry, and the side bowled to a plan and fielded with verve. Importantly, the role definition in the side was clear and the captain deserves credit for achieving this.

Knight in shining armour… Manvinder Bisla receives the Man of the Match award after the final. His sensational 48-ball 89 enabled Kolkata Knight Riders to successfully chase down a daunting total.-PTI

For CSK, the quest for a stunning hat-trick of IPL titles remained unfulfilled. Below par in the league phase, the side was fortunate to qualify for the play-offs with a welter of results from the other matches going its way. But then, CSK is a powerhouse when it runs into form and did steamroll Mumbai Indians and Delhi Daredevils in the eliminator and Qualifier-2. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni's wristy and destructive half-century against Mumbai will remain one of the highlights of this edition.

Then, Murali Vijay's hurricane hundred blew away Delhi Daredevils at Chepauk. It was a night when the opener fuelled the ball through the gaps or propelled the sphere over the ropes with a clean swing of the willow.

The solid yet innovative Michael Hussey and a rampant Suresh Raina provided CSK a gilt-edged opportunity to nail the final. The never-say-die Knight Riders' batsmen, though, had other ideas.

Pace bowling all-rounder Dwayne Bravo and Albie Morkel had their roof-hitting moments with the bat but CSK missed a specialist paceman to support swing bowler Ben Hilfenhaus in the final. Nuwan Kulasekara, with his ability to send down telling cutters on sub-continental tracks, might have strengthened the attack.

This was also a season where R. Ashwin was read much better by the batsmen; he either needs to develop more variations or bowl conventional off-spin with greater control. And left-arm spinning all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja did not justify his price tag of $2 million.

Despite the shortcomings, CSK made a gallant effort and came perilously close to pulling it off. There is a wonderful sense of bonding in the squad but the time has come for CSK to make a few changes for the next edition.

Delhi Daredevils blundered by leaving out the incisive Morne Morkel in Qualifier-2. Irfan Pathan had a split webbing and the think tank roped in another pace-bowling all-rounder, Andre Russell. The problem was Russell took Morkel's spot as an overseas player.

As the CSK left-right opening combination of Hussey and Vijay blazed away, Daredevils looked for Morne, who was now walking around the ground in shorts.

A leader has to lead from the front and Sehwag, by surfacing at No. 3 during the chase against CSK, sent the wrong signals. Daredevils is an entertaining side but its tactics at the competition's business end were bizarre.

Mumbai Indians' perennial problems continued to haunt it in the climactic phase. It does not play the big moments well in knock-out situations. This outfit lacks the ruthlessness of a champion side.

Dhawal Kulkarni sent down a probing first spell against CSK in Bangalore and given his rhythm, movement and precision, the paceman should have been bowled out. Instead, skipper Harbhajan Singh took him off the attack and the pressure eased on CSK.

Harbhajan's management of overs went awry; he was the frontline spinner and ended up not bowling his fourth over. And by not bringing in Lasith Malinga in the first half of the innings, Mumbai Indians erred strategically. The pressure eased and CSK recovered, consolidated and then launched a breathless onslaught.

At the end of it all, Knight Riders was a deserving champion.