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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.”
The Kolkata Knight Riders pulled off a remarkable performance towards the second half of the tournament, which saw them clinch the second place in the points table at the end of the league phase of the Pepsi IPL 2014. This gives them two chances to make it to the final of the coveted trophy and reclaim the title. The Gautam Gambhir-led side turned things around for themselves with some determined performances first to qualify for the Playoffs and then a with fairytale win to seal the second place. They are now poised to take on Kings XI Punjab in the first qualifier, in their home ground, Eden Gardens.
Addressing the media ahead of the game, coach Trevor Bayliss lauded his team’s efforts. “I am very proud of the boys and the character that they showed. We spoke about for a while that we wanted to be playing well at the end of the tournament and hoped to go into the Playoffs playing well and winning the last seven games; we have achieved that.”
The team maintained its core line-up and did not make any drastic changes while looking to turn their fortunes around. Elaborating on the way they managed the playing eleven while seeking the winning combination, he said, “We did make a few small changes. Probably the biggest change we made was with the batting order while trying to find what is our best combination. Over the course of the tournament, we have come up with our best combination, certainly one that has clicked. It is a case of finding the combination that works; it doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best combination, but it is about finding the guys that are in form and doing well. And seven wins in a row I think has proved that.” “I think we that we can still change one or two things around, which we have done in the course of those seven matches. We have tried to find the best possible combination going forward.”
Asked about their plans for the Kings XI Punjab line-up, he said that he wouldn’t want to give away anything as of now. But he did say, “We are going to have to be on our A game. They are a good team, a very good batting team and they could easily turn that around so we have to stay focused and concentrate on what we are doing.”
Asked if Virender Sehwag poses the same kind of threat that he did earlier, the KKR coach observed, “He is still a very dangerous player. Most players, as they get older, their consistency falls a little bit but that doesn’t mean that they can’t score in the same manner that they did before. I think he has betted very well on occasions during this IPL. He has some big scores. We are certainly not taking him lightly, he is a class player and very destructive batsman and one that we will have to get out very early.”
Knight Riders’ winning streak has also coincided with Robin Uthappa’s return to the opener's slot. Speaking about the batsman’s contribution, Bayliss said, “Robin has been fantastic for us since he has gone to the top of the order. We had role for him in the middle order in first half of the season. That obviously from his point of view and ours didn’t quite work. You live and learn as you go on. He has been fantastic since he came to the top of the order. His performance at the top of the order has mirrored our good run.”
Asked about the areas that the team needs to work on in the last leg of the tournament, he said, “I thought that our bowling in the last match was a little bit off early on, so I would like to see that improve. I can’t say too much about what we need to do because I think we have played some very good cricket. In the second and third last matches, I thought we were very good while batting, bowling and fielding. We are at the top of the game and we are confident going into Qualifier 1, which is a good thing.”
Speaking about the team’s momentum, he said that the team has peaked at the right time. And added that it is very similar to when they had won the trophy two years ago. But while speaking about the high that the team are on he was cautious to mention that, “To give yourself a chance you need to win the qualifier and then to give yourself chance in that you need to play good, confident cricket and I feel that’s where we are at. But that doesn’t guarantee anything; we are up against three very good teams.”