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The blitzkriegs of Yusuf Pathan and Corey Anderson have brought Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians together in the IPL 2014 Eliminator. The two teams with a budding strong rivalry will lock horns on Wednesday, at the Brabourne Stadium – a fairly unknown venue in the IPL. Going into the big game, CSK coach, Stephen Fleming, admitted that selecting the XI best suited for the conditions at the CCI will be the biggest challenge for the team management.
“It makes it difficult. You tend to build your knowledge on a particular ground and determine what kind of individuals to select based on the conditions,” Fleming said. “To play at a ground that hasn’t hosted a lot of cricket and doesn’t have any recent history is a big challenge. Our biggest challenge in this game is that we are not a 100 percent sure exactly what kind of side we should select. We’ll just look to pick players who are ready for the opportunity and are experienced in general.”
Fleming, however, felt that the Mumbai Indians will feel more at home at Mumbai’s second venue and that CSK will have to bring their A game. “MI defeated us the last year, but this year, we’ve had some revenge with two wins against them. In effect, it is a home game for Mumbai Indians and we will have to play extremely well. We’re in good form and we’re happy with the way we’ve come into the Playoffs.”
Fleming said that it was good for his team to come into the Playoffs with a win against RCB, after their short slump in the middle, where they lost three games on the bounce.
“It was important to stop the run of defeats,” the CSK coach said. “We were not playing well and there were a number of reasons for those three losses in a row. Maybe it was the fact that we had already qualified in the top-four; whatever it was, we were complete off the mark. The performance in Bangalore was exactly what I had asked for.”
While he was pleased with the team’s momentum, Fleming did rue the fact that they missed out on finishing in the top-two, as KKR overtook them on the basis of a superior net run-rate.
“It feels a bit odd when you have the same number of wins as the other team, but here, the nature of the wins matters a lot too. There are rules and we’ve known them all along. We tried to win a game quickly against SRH in Sharjah and almost lost it. So, we learnt a lesson of just concentrating to win the game, even if the net run-rate doesn’t work in our favour.
We’re delighted to be in the Playoffs; it shows good consistency, and if this is a champion team, we will overcome the challenge of winning three consecutive games to become the worthy champions,” he said.
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.”