Kings XI Punjab was one team in the Pepsi Indian Premier League 2014 whose place in the final four of the points table was never threatened by any of the other seven teams. The new-look franchise from Punjab, led by George Bailey and coached by Sanjay Bangar, steadily made its way to the top of the table. Even as the tournament saw upsets with teams vying for a place in the Playoffs, KXIP were perched comfortably at the top and had taken an unassailable top position as the tournament approached its business end.
Speaking about the team’s consistent performance, Bangar said, “The key is to not think too far ahead and try and do the things that we are good at, and also challenge our own limitations. That has been the emphasis for our team. We have not really gone beyond that. That has helped us play consistent cricket over a longer period of time.”
They will be pitted, in Qualifier 1, against the Kolkata Knight Riders, who are only one of two teams to have beaten them in the ongoing season. Speaking to the media ahead of the clash at Eden Gardens, the KXIP coach said, “Past records don’t really indicate anything. The teams that have got to the Playoffs have played really good cricket and whichever team plays well on that particular day will definitely have an edge.”
Asked if teams have suffered from not taking the attack to the KKR bowling attack in the first powerplay, he replied, “Each team comes out with their own strategies. Even we will try and negate their positives, just as how every team tries to counter their opponent’s strengths.”
While speaking about their opposition, who had put up a remarkable performance to seal the second place in the points table, he said, “They were not in a position to be in the No.2 spot, but they played some outstanding cricket to get there. Even a team like the Mumbai Indians has surprised and made that entry into the last four. These teams have played really good cricket, but CSK and our side have produced consistent cricket over a longer period of time. All four teams deserve to be here.”
Asked if it would be a bit intimidating to play in front of KKR’s home crowd at Eden Gardens, he said, “In fact, we’re looking forward to it because Eden produces some great cricket because of the crowd and the atmosphere that is created. It’s good to have that sort of challenge. I just feel that we’ll revel in those challenging conditions.”
It has been raining in Kolkata and the conditions have been cloudy. Asked if that will call for changes in the KXIP squad, Bangar explained, “I don’t think the weather conditions will have much of an impact. But the surface will have a say in how we decide our final XI. We will wait for the covers to come off before we decide that.”
The coach was himself out in the middle until a little over a year ago, playing in India’s domestic circuit. Asked if his knowledge has helped the team, he observed, “All other teams also have Indian coaches on their support staff. My advantage was that I was playing till just over 15 months ago. I have seen how most of these players respond under match situations. Maybe having played till very recently helped a bit.”
Discussing the team’s composition further and the process behind choosing the players who have formed a match-winning combination for the franchise, he explained, “Because of the entire reshuffle of players, all the teams have been well thought out, not just Kings XI Punjab. All teams have got a very good balance in their outfits. But apart from that, we definitely like to have some impact players in the batting department. Also, at times it was felt that we were short on the bowling front. But I feel that the young Indian bowlers who are not really heard of have really come up well and delivered for us. From that perspective, we’re very pleased with the bowling as well.
The team has amongst its line-up young Indian players like Akshar Patel, Sandeep Sharma and Rishi Dhawan who have routinely contributed to the team’s victories. Asked if there was a conscious effort to mix young Indian players with big names to put forth a winning combination, he said, “Irrespective of whether you have big names or unknown names, the effort was to put together a well-balanced team capable of playing in any condition.”