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Kolkata Knight Riders came into IPL 2013 with expectations and hopes high, wearing the defending champions’ crown. However, their campaign did not go as planned and they managed a mere four wins from 11 games.
With the tournament progressing towards its business end, the competition for the top-four is boiling. In order to book a place in the playoffs, KKR need to find the inner champions in them.
An away game against the Mumbai Indians seems to be the perfect time for Gautam Gambhir and his men to push themselves to their limits. As the team prepared for the big challenge the KKR skipper sounded positive as ever of their chances to make the knockout stage.
“We are very much in the race. I haven’t heard anyone say that we’re out,” said Gambhir. ”A lot of people are saying that we need to win five out of five games. But if you see the last three years, teams have qualified in the top four with eight wins.”
Asked whether the desperation of going into every game with the knowing of the must-win situation would help the team rediscover their mojo, Gambhir said he is always desperate to win.
“Whether it’s the start or the end of a tournament, we always go out there to win. The desperation is always there. Till now we have approached every game with the same hunger and desperation and it’s not that only because we are in a position like this that we are desperate to win. We have to look at the remaining games like any other game rather than think it’s a must-win game,” he said.
With Sunil Narine and Sachitra Senanayake in their ranks, KKR have managed to get the better of the opposition batting with spin on slow and low tracks. But they have been found wanting on tracks with bounce and pace. Gambhir, however, was confident that his spin attack has the ability to succeed on the pacer-friendly Wankhede track.
“Fast bowlers have been more successful on this wicket because of the bounce and the swing later in the evening. But I believe that when you have quality, you have quality. Good spinners don’t require helpful surfaces to succeed. Both our spinners have many variation and tricks up their sleeve. So, you never know, we might end up picking them both even on this track,” Gambhir said.
An aspect of KKR’s batting that many think has let them down is the modest batting strike-rate of top-order batsman like Jacques Kallis. Gambhir refuted the claim saying he was just playing the role assigned to him and that the team has other batsmen who can score runs at a fast clip.
“We’re absolutely fine with his game,” Gambhir said of the South African legend. “We’ve got all kind of players. There are people like Brendon (McCullum) and Yusuf (Pathan) who thrive on strike-rates and bat at a rate of more than 130-140. So, we need someone to anchor the innings and Jacques has been playing that role for us.
“We have picked our squad based on that thinking. We pick players to play the role that suits their own game rather than asking them to change their game. We need someone, who the team can bat around and Jacques has done that very successfully for us.”
Out of contention for a spot in the play-offs, the Delhi Daredevilswill be playing their 12th match of the Pepsi Indian Premier League 2013 against the Rajasthan Royals at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium. The home team has so far been unbeaten in their playground. Pursuing a place in the top four, RR will go hard at theMahela Jayawardene-led side on Tuesday afternoon.
While speaking about the visitor’s mind set going into the game, spin bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed told the media, “We have to play proud cricket. The most important thing is to respect the game, and I think we got to respect the game as much as we can. It’s disappointing! If I should be honest, we did not play good enough cricket but there are still five games left. So, we have to play for the badge of Delhi Daredevils and play hard cricket, let the people know that we are a good team. We didn’t play well, but we can still finish well.”
Discussing the Royals’ winning streak at home like few other teams, he explained the reason for teams doing well at home. He said, “One, because they know the ground and wicket conditions. It is important to know the conditions and they get used to playing it in net practice. They know the pitches, the kind of bounce that is going to happen and turn they can extract. So, they prepare themselves well. Home ground and home crowd can inspire you, because preparation will help you, crowd can inspire you. So mutually both of those things will help you play good cricket basically.”
The former leg-spinner who has spun webs around batsmen all over the world and was part of one of the best Pakistan bowling attacks also spoke elaborately about bowling, spin and the shortest format of the game.
Speaking about the way spin bowling has evolved in twenty20 cricket, he said, “I think spin bowling is important. Lots of teams are winning games because of the spinners. So I believe, because spinners have more variations like they have a carrom ball, a doosra, a googly, they have a flipper and a top spinner, they are playing a huge role in T20.”
“Lots of people used to think less of spinners, but now they have changed their opinion, that less pace you have the more difficult it is for the batsmen to hit sixes. Spinners can pick wickets in the middle, which is a crucial time in T20. Sinners are playing a huge role.”
There have been quite a few players that have impressed the veteran cricketer in his first stint in the IPL. “There are plenty of them who have been impressive. I am going to talk about my team. (Shahbaz) Nadeem is bowling very well, Jeevan (Mendis) is there, Johan Botha is there, (Roelof) van der Merwe is there, (Pawan) Negi is there. Plus opposition spinners like (Amit) Mishra, Harbhajan (Singh) and (Pragyan) Ojha – all those spinners are playing a huge role. So, I think spinners did actually impress me overall in this IPL.”
When asked how much thinking amongst coaches has changed with respect to spinners in T20 cricket, the DD bowling coach said, “A lot! I believe cricket coaching is about not to tell the player how to play cricket. It is about managing youngsters, especially in IPL.
Fifty thousand people are coming and watching your game and you are a youngster trying to bowl against Sachin (Tendulkar) or (Kieron) Pollard or (Chris) Gayle. So as a coach you learn how to express your feeling, how to pass that feeling to your young spinner, not to worry about the sixes, not to worry about the crowd, just go and express oneself. So in the making of spinners, the temperament is the key for the coaches. For me, what I learned as a player from my coaches was never to worry about the situation, always remember your strengths, not to worry about the opposition. So if you can give that time to the players then I think they will be able to cope.”
He also emphasised on the importance of temperament for a player. “I always believe it is the temperament. Temperament is the key and secondly to spin the ball as hard as you can because as long as you are a spinner, you have to spin the ball and not worry about containing a batsman. If you spin the ball, you can contain naturally. Having said that, there are a plenty of left-arm spinners, for example he has not got a variation and he still can spin the ball. The answer for that, I believe is temperament, spin the ball and be smart with your field position that comes with the technical things.”
However, there are few leg-spinners visible on the horizon. Speaking about the fewer number of bowlers possessing the art he said, “Few leg spinners are there but at the moment I think maybe people have not got the time to see and spend money on youth. People used to look for the leg-spinners among club cricketers. Nowadays people are looking for hard-hitters, the fast bowler who can swing or reverse-swing and bowl the Yorkers. But I think in the last two years, if I will be honest with you, people are more looking into the leg-spinners, to go and find and protect them.”
“I always give this example. Leg spinners are like a tree, if you can protect the tree and if you are a good gardener, you can grow the tree and for the rest of your life have the fruit and shade,” he concluded.