Panning out like a Shah Rukh movie!

And it all ended in true bollywood style with the greasepaint-donning owners of both the victor and the vanquished, Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta, posing for a happy picture.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

The KKR team-management was obsessed with the smaller details and even before the player auction in Bangalore, earlier this year, it signed up with SAP Labs to use an analytics tool that aided the selection of the right cricketer, fitting into the overall team goals. K. C. Vijaya Kumar takes a look behind the scenes.

Much like its owner Shah Rukh Khan’s film scripts that have the hero braving the odds, dusting aside the defeats and rising like a phoenix to deliver the knockout punch in the climax, Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) found resilience and belief towards the business end of the Indian Premier League. A rollicking final at Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy Stadium on a Sunday night, could have gone either way, but KKR held its nerve and defeated a spirited Kings XI Punjab by three wickets.

Until then, sporting a face that was topped with sweat and creased with worrylines, skipper Gautam Gambhir finally broke into a grin. He too had a roller-coaster ride, starting the tournament on a weak platform — three blobs in a row — before finding his feet and runs to eventually nudge the national selectors to pick him as the third opener for the coming Test tour of England.

KKR’s title triumph kind of drew a fine circle. Remember, KKR had opened its campaign on a rousing note by defeating defending champion Mumbai Indians by 41 runs in the seventh edition’s first match in Abu Dhabi on April 16? Though subsequently it wasn’t exactly a tale of well-begun is half-done, KKR braved through the initial slumps and maintained its poise and intensity to propel itself to the victor’s podium.

The desire to excel and outsmart its rivals was evident even before the latest IPL’s sojourn across the United Arab Emirates and India.

This was a team-management that was obsessed with the smaller details and before the player auction in Bangalore, earlier this year, KKR signed up with SAP Labs to use an analytics tool that aided the selection of the right cricketer, fitting into the overall team goals.

Still, eyebrows were raised when Yusuf Pathan was pocketed for rupees 3.25 crore after KKR exercised its right-to-match card and scuttled rival bids. At that point, it seemed more a decision stemming from the heart rather than the cold logic that seeps in from statistics or even an analytics software. But there was no denying that he was a high-impact player, a fact that he amply illustrated when he smashed a 22-ball 72 which sunk Sunrisers Hyderabad and ensured that KKR finished ahead of Chennai Super Kings and was assured of two qualifiers for seeking an entry into the final. “Yusuf’s innings was a big turning point,” Gambhir said. It is another matter that KKR needed just one qualifier to race into the final!

Just like Pathan, who turned on the heat when it mattered the most, KKR kept finding men, who put their hand up and countered a crisis. In the final, when the ‘Orange Cap’ holder — Robin Uthappa, for scoring the highest number of runs — failed to replicate his form, his fellow Karnataka player Manish Pandey delivered the knock-out blow with a 94 that was worth more than a 100. That match-winning knock ensured that Kings XI Punjab’s 199 was well within reach.

An orange that one can eat all day! The Orange Cap series winner Robin Uthappa, whose torrent of runs flooded Kolkata.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Besides these standout performances, KKR’s fairytale was also mounted on the solid plank of consistency. Just like the team’s nine-match winning streak that helped it nail the title, opener Uthappa too excelled though the ‘law of averages’ finally caught up with him in the summit clash.

His 660 runs provided enough ballast for KKR to stand upright and in some contests, he even shepherded the Kolkata outfit all the way to the winning post.

Uthappa evolved well from an overwhelmingly aggressive player to a more rounded batsman, who built his innings, allied well in partnerships and still nursed that old aggro to hoodwink inflationary required rates. KKR couldn’t have asked for more and all the hard work the Coorgi lad had put in along with personal batting coach Pravin Amre and the runs he tallied for Karnataka, finally held him in good stead. His selection to the Indian team for a three-match ODI series in Bangladesh, added further lustre to Uthappa’s exploits in this IPL.

Meanwhile, Gambhir too chipped in (335 runs) and his partnerships with Uthappa upfront meant that KKR didn’t have to contend much with the opening blues during the India leg. Coming in at number three, Pandey, incidentally the first centurion in the IPL with his ton for Royal Challengers Bangalore in South Africa in 2009, also added weight and purpose (401 runs) to the champion side.

The bowling rode on Sunil Narine’s wickets (21) — the tournament’s second highest wicket-taker — and others like Morne Morkel, Piyush Chawla, Umesh Yadav and Shakib Al Hasan, fitted into the support cast.

Most importantly, the team had immense faith in its ability. Even when Royal Challengers Bangalore’s 14-crore bid for Yuvraj Singh swept the newswires, KKR quietly worked on its team composition and Gambhir said: “We always believed in ourselves. I had faith in this team and we also looked at strengthening our bowling at the auction. There is immense respect for each other inside our dressing room and that is what matters, not what people outside think!” The support staff that featured coach Trevor Bayliss, bowling coach Wasim Akram and backed by W. V. Raman, Vijay Dahiya and physio Andrew Leipus, ensured that the squad stayed focussed on the task on hand. It was a point reiterated by Gambhir and he said: “The support staff allowed us to go out there and express ourselves. It is often the team that gets credit, but the fact is that the support staff did an incredible job.”

In 2012, KKR proved that it is a team that cannot be ignored while winning the title. Cut to the present and with a second trophy in its cabinet, the squad has finally moved into the behemoth’s club in the IPL that usually features CSK, the only other squad to win the trophy twice! If Shah Rukh Khan kept blowing kisses and doing cartwheels after the dust and confetti had settled down at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, you really can’t blame him, can you?