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Akshay Manwani in Mumbai 21 May 2012 - 12:54pm IST

Road to Playoffs: KKR

Gambhir, Narine set to make KKR’s second playoff appearance count

Kolkata Knight Riders’ passionate fans are beaming and for good reason. Their side has made it to the DLF IPL Playoffs for the second year in a row. And while KKR had only one shot to make it to the 2011 final thanks to their fourth-place finish at the league stage, Gautam Gambhir’s side will have two chances of booking a spot in the 2012 final on May 27. Feisty, exciting, intense and tireless, KKR enter the playoffs focussed on the prestigious title.

IPL 2012:
It wasn’t the perfect start, though, for the Kolkata franchise. After a rain-truncated game saw them lose their first game to Delhi, they lost by 22 runs to Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur. Laxmipathy Balaji and Gautam Gambhir then combined to give KKR their first win with a 42-run victory over Royal Challengers Bangalore, after which Shakib Al Hasan came up with an all-round performance to help them avenge their earlier loss to RR.

Yet, it was the agonising two-run loss to Kings XI Punjab at Eden Gardens in their fifth game that helped KKR turn the corner. After losing to Adam Gilchrist’s men from a winning position, the Knights bounced back to beat KXIP in Mohali – and then Deccan Chargers, RCB and Chennai Super Kings. KKR’s match against DC in Kolkata during this period was washed out making it four wins out of five games for the buoyant side. The KKR franchise then proceeded to win the much anticipated encounter against Sourav Ganguly’s Pune Warriors India in Kolkata. Following that they handed table toppers Delhi Daredevils a six-wicket thrashing at the Feroz Shah Kotla, which rounded off a six-game winning run for them.

After a five-day gap post their win against Delhi on May 7, KKR appeared to have lost the momentum with successive defeats against Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings. But with Sunil Narine setting them up for a 32-run win against MI, and Shakib Al Hasan coming up with another all-round performance against PWI, the Knights finished second in the league standings to qualify for the playoffs.

Batting star: With 556 runs against his name, Gambhir is the leading run-getter for KKR and among the five leading scorers in the competition. The skipper has shown great intent while wasting no time in going after the opposition bowlers in the tournament. His determined, unbeaten 66 in Mohali on April 18 set the Knight Riders on their winning run while his best of 93 off just 51 balls against RCB in Kolkata on April 28 was arguably the most aggressive innings of the tournament.

Bowling star:
Perhaps the find of the IPL, Sunil Narine was the hidden ace in the KKR bowling line-up. Foxing the batsmen with his knuckle ball, off-break and faster one, Narine has emerged as the only spinner in the five leading wicket-takers in the tournament. His economy-rate of 5.14, the best for any bowler who has bowled more than 30 overs in the 2012 IPL, proves his class in a batsman-friendly format. Narine has bowled with uncanny precision, equally at the beginning of an innings as at the death. Above all, Narine’s efficiency has allowed the Knight Riders the luxury of defending any score.

X-factor
: Gambhir’s captaincy was pretty much spot on right through the tournament. His decision to bowl Narine mainly at the death, along with the backing of Yusuf Pathan, highlights a leader who is not afraid to take on the odds or take difficult calls. Even at practice sessions, he can be spotted mentoring the younger members of the side. Against Chennai Super Kings at Chepauk, he went one step further by handing over his Man-of-the-Match award to young Debabrata Das for taking KKR past the finish line. Gambhir’s leadership and KKR’s success have been intertwined this season. Watch out for some inspired leadership as the team heads into the playoffs.

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