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While the Kings XI Punjab have been one of the most consistent performers of Pepsi Indian Premier League 2014, the Kolkata Knight Riders have proven their mettle by turning things around for themselves in the second half of the tournament. Their clash in the Final will indeed be a great game to watch.
Both teams will be facing off for the fourth time this season, with KKR having won two of their previous three encounters. The Punjab franchise, who have made it to the IPL Final for the first time, have done so on the back of some magnificent performances – the most recent of which came against Chennai Super Kings in Qualifier 2.
Most of KXIP’s wins have been set up by their explosive batting line-up with Glenn Maxwell taking apart the opposition in the first half of the tournament, while Virender Sehwag decimating bowling attacks in the latter half. David Miller and captain George Bailey, amongst others, are known for their hard-hitting abilities and form a formidable batting line-up. However, KKR have shown that they can restrict KXIP on the batting front. Even KXIP’s bowling, led by Mitchell Johnson, will be tested by the in-form Robin Uthappa-led KKR line-up once again in the grand finale.
Both captains, Bailey and KKR’s Gautam Gambhir, jointly addressed the media in Bengaluru ahead of the all-important clash. Asked how they sized up the opposition, both captains said that they would focus more on their own games. Bailey told the media, “In Twenty20, it is dangerous to worry too much about the opposition. I think both teams would be very comfortable with their own side and the ability that they have within that. Both teams will be very much focused on playing the game that they want to play and hoping that’s good enough.”
“From our point of view, looking at KKR, the way they have played their last several matches – nearly right throughout the tournament – we appreciate it, and it’s something we have talked about as a group is to have as small a gap as possible between your best game and your worst game. I would take my hat off to them. They have been very consistent right throughout in all three departments.”
Both the captains also agreed that it is a team’s all-round performance that takes them into the final of this high-profile tournament. Speaking about his side’s bowling, Bailey observed, “The last I checked I think our team had taken the most wickets as well. That has certainly been very important for us. The really hard thing I think to judge is if you get a high score or if you chase down a high score, how do you ascertain your bowling. I think depending upon how the wicket is, both sides will be happy with their batting sides and both teams will be happy with their bowling sides. And I don’t think you can win matches with one-half of the team doing well. You need every department to do well.”
Speaking about Sehwag’s run in the tournament, which reached its high point in Qualifier 2, against CSK, with a century, the KXIP captain said, “I think everyone has been a bit harsh on him. I think he has actually played some beautiful innings for us. He hasn’t scored the big score that we would have liked to see from him. I think he scored a nice 70-odd against KKR in Cuttack earlier in the season. He has got some beautiful 30s and 40s. The way he bats, he forces the opposition to think about how they are going to bowl to him and to think about changing their plans. He is in beautiful touch and also the thing to measure him on is how much he has helped in grooming Manan Vohra. We have seen a young player develop, maturing along with Viru yesterday. That partnership was very important and together I think they have had some great partnerships. It was just vintage stuff from the master.”
Reflecting on the big show, Maxwell, who has seemed out of form during the business end of the tournament, Bailey said, “I always feel form is a bit of weird thing with T20. The pleasing thing for us is that if Maxi gets out, he doesn’t waste any balls. When he is not getting big scores for us, he normally hits a six and gets out. I still think he is hitting the ball really beautifully, and it’s just a matter of him getting through the first couple of balls, and then he is away. It’s the same with any batsman in any side.”
“The really pleasing thing for us is that we know what he is capable of. We have seen that a number of times throughout the tournament, he is one of the main reasons that we have been able to get to the Final. And once again, not just the way he has played, but the belief that he has instilled in the rest of the team about what’s possible and what the standard is for us guys with the bat and in the field, they have been something quite special for our team.”
Asked about the pressure of playing the Final, Bailey replied, “There is only as much pressure as you put on yourself. The expectations from both teams is that they will be looking to win. But there will be no more pressure than any other game. As much as it sounds clichéd and boring, we are not going to go out with any brand new tactics. As a team, we will try to go out and do the same things. In some ways, the bigger the game, the more it is just about doing the basics as well as you can.”
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.”