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Kolkata Knight Riders would want to repeat their 2012 heroics when they take on Kings XI Punjab in the Pepsi IPL 2014 Final in Bengaluru on Sunday. The team has been on song – Robin Uthappa has been a revelation at the top of the order, the middle order has clicked when needed and the bowling has looked strong with a good mix of spin and pace.
It all boils down to the all-important Final now, and KKR captain Gambhir believes that all three aspects of the game need to click in tandem for the side to emerge as champions. “To reach the final of such a high-profile tournament, you need to do well in all three departments of the game,” Gambhir said. “You don’t need to do anything different tomorrow. Ultimately, it is still a game of cricket, which needs to be played well. The pressure will be equal on both the sides and whichever side holds their nerves for long periods of time and whoever can do their basics well, will end up being the winner.”
Their opponents for the grand finale are riding high on confidence after a comprehensive 24-run win against the Chennai Super Kings in Qualifier 2. It was a Virender Sehwag special that lit up Wankhede stadium on Friday night, and the veteran opener’s close friend, Gautam Gambhir, only had words of appreciation for him.
“I loved it and it was very pleasing to see. A big-match player always puts his hands up on the big day and that is what Virender Sehwag did against the Chennai Super Kings. He was hitting the ball well throughout the tournament and it was just about spending more time at the crease. I was happy with the way he batted in the last game and I have always believed that he is the greatest match-winner India has ever had.”
When asked if his friendship would soften his approach when the two take the field against each other on Sunday, Gambhir said, “For me no individual has ever been important than the team. When we walk on the cricket field, we would be thinking of getting Sehwag out and he would be thinking of getting me out. We still have a lot of respect for each other, but friendships are meant to be off the cricket field and not on it.”
Meanwhile, Gambhir also praised their opponents. “We rate the Kings XI as a very dangerous and quality side and we have to play well in all the three departments to beat a side like them. We need to do our things really well rather than thinking about the weakness of the opposition. That is how we have gone in this tournament and that is how we will go about tomorrow as well.”
Gambhir was also of the view that the players in his side were fresh, especially after having sealed a place in the Final a couple of days in advance. “The guys have gone back home and come back fresh, which is very important. When you play such a long tournament, you want breaks in the middle. There have been times in the tournament when we have played games on the trot. The guys really deserve that break, but we are ready to go tomorrow. There is a lot of energy in the group.”
There has also been much talk about Sunil Narine opting for the IPL over playing Test cricket for the West Indies. Narine has informed the West Indies Cricket Board that he would not be available to join the national training camp, which starts in Barbados on June 1. Instead, he would stay back in India to play in the IPL Final. The KKR captain was completely supportive of the decision as he said, “It is unfair for the player when his team reaches the final and he is asked not to take part in it. Narine has taken the team to the Final and has taken the right decision of wanting to play for KKR in the Final because it is an important game. Any player would have taken that decision and I completely support him. If I would have been in his position, even I would have done the same thing.”
After 47 days of grueling and competitive cricket, the two teams left standing –Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI Punjab – will battle it out in the Grand Finale of Pepsi IPL 2014 to lay their hands on the coveted IPL Trophy and for the winner’s purse.
It has been a spectacular turnaround for the Kolkata Knight Riders, who managed just two wins from the five matches they played in the UAE leg of Pepsi IPL 2014. Things looked gloomier for Gautam Gambhir’s team when they lost their first two matches after the tournament returned to Indian shores. But since then, they not only forced their way into the Playoffs on the back of seven consecutive wins, but also sailed through to the title clash by defeating table-toppers Kings XI Punjab in the first of the Playoff matches.
Kings XI Punjab have been the best team so far this season; they finished the league season with the most wins and were the first team to seal a place in the Playoffs. A defeat at the hands of KKR in Qualifier 1 meant KXIP had to overcome a second hurdle – in form of the Chennai Super Kings – in Qualifier 2, which they did in style. After being put in to bat, KXIP – riding on the back of a magnificent century by Virender Sehwag – posted 226 runs on the board, and then held their nerves to restrict their opponents to 202.
Tournament finals are meant to be contests between the two best teams – and that is certainly the case where Pepsi IPL 2014 is concerned.
Sunday, June 1, 2014, 8 pm IST
M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru
In high-stakes matches like this one, the pressure will be on the men in form to deliver the goods. Robin Uthappa has had a dream run since the tournament has returned to India. Everything about him has been impressive; he has shown the inclination to play the long innings, and is reaping the rewards of playing with the right technique and using orthodox methods to score runs. The 28-year-old –likely to finish with the Orange Cap as a reward for his efforts through the season – has scored at least 40 in each of his last 10 innings; KKR will be well served if he can get one more such knock in Bengaluru.
Gautam Gambhir is another important player in the KKR scheme of things; apart from runs at the top, Gambhir’s decision-making skills too need to be spot on. On the bowling front, one doesn’t need to look beyond Sunil Narine, who would walk into any World XI where Twenty20 cricket is concerned.
All eyes will be on Virender Sehwag after the damage he caused (and the joy he brought to the spectators) at Wankhede Stadium on Friday. Speaking to IPLT20.com after that match-winning knock, the 35-year-old said that he was yet to play his best cricket and sounded a warning that he was hoping to deliver his marquee performance in Bangalore.
KXIP will rest their hopes on Glenn Maxwell and David Miller (who were at the forefront of the team’s charge at the start of the season) too. On the bowling front, KXIP will pin their hopes on Sandeep Sharma and Mitchell Johnson, and hope the pair can push their opponents on the back foot from ball-one.
Notes from previous match
Kolkata Knight Riders v Kings XI Punjab: Three of the top four batsmen got off to starts, yet Robin Uthappa’s 42 was the highest score in KKR’s innings. That indicates none of the top-order batsmen carried on to bat long – a pattern that has become synonymous with KKR’s success this season. That is an area that KKR can certainly improve upon. The KKR innings lacked urgency in the middle overs; the team added only 57 runs (and their batsmen played out 24 dot-balls) in the middle period of play – and that is another area they could improve upon. The way the bowlers controlled the middle period of the KXIP innings was impressive; despite the presence of dangerous strikers like Glenn Maxwell, David Miller and George Bailey, KXIP could only find the boundary thrice in the middle period.
Kings XI Punjab v Chennai Super Kings: It wouldn’t be wrong to say the match was set up for KXIP by Virender Sehwag’s blistering century. Once KXIP had the runs on the board, CSK were always going to play catch up. When it was their turn to defend, the intensity shown by the fielders despite having a mountain of runs on the board deserves a pat on the back. The bowlers came in for plenty of stick and that is an area in which KXIP will want to do better. The three frontline seamers – Mitchell Johnson, Sandeep Sharma and Parvinder Awana – lacked discipline, generally bowled fuller lengths and cost the team 135 runs in 11 overs.
The Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI Punjab have so far clashed 14 times in the IPL and the former have an edge with 8 wins.
The story is somewhat similar in the three meetings between the two teams this season. While KXIP won the first contest between the two teams in Abu Dhabi, KKR came back strongly to win in Cuttack. KKR got the better of KXIP for the second time this season when they won the first of the Playoff matches and sailed through to the Final.
No team that has topped the table at the end of the league stage has gone on to win the IPL title since the Rajasthan Royals did it in the inaugural season, in 2008.
Kings XI Punjab have the most successful bowling attack this season; they’ve picked up more wickets than any other team – 106.
Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI Punjab share the record for the longest run of consecutive wins in the IPL. KXIP’s 8 consecutive wins comprised winning their last three league matches of Pepsi IPL 2013 and their first five matches of Pepsi IPL 2014. KKR, meanwhile, have won their most recent 8 matches and have the chance to extend that run.
Gautam Gambhir is the second-most experienced captain in Twenty20 cricket; he has been captain in 95 T20 matches.
Kolkata Knight Riders have the most successful spin bowling attack in Pepsi IPL 2014; they have realised 43 wickets from their spinners.
Curtains will be drawn on Pepsi IPL 2014. The top four teams – namely Kings XI Punjab, Kolkata Knight Riders, Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians – will regroup in a few months time to prepare for the Champions League T20 2014.