IPL 2024: Kolkata Knight Riders shine and it smells of team spirit | Crickit
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IPL 2024: Kolkata Knight Riders shine and it smells of team spirit

ByDhiman Sarkar
May 13, 2024 06:35 AM IST

Nitish Rana credits coach Chandrakant Pandit and mentor Gautam Gambhir for backing players.

It was almost 1 AM on Sunday but there were enough at Eden Gardens to fill some of India’s smaller cricket theatres. As Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) sent balls into the stands and lapped the ground, signing off from where they won five of their seven games, the crowd moved towards the high perimeter railing and waved back. This reaction is usually reserved for Shah Rukh Khan who was not there for the final home game, against Mumbai Indians (MI).

KKR became the first team to seal playoffs spot in IPL 2024.
KKR became the first team to seal playoffs spot in IPL 2024.

Nine wins from 12 games and a nett run rate that is nearly four times better than the next best team made KKR the first team to qualify for the playoff. They are one win away from equalling their best league season in the history of the Indian Premier League (IPL). That was in 2012 when the league phase had 16 games, two more than now. Team effort backed by a management that backs players, said KKR vice-captain Nitish Rana.

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The website Sportskeeda has listed similarities between the title-winning run in 2012 and now: beating MI at Wankhede, doing the double on Royal Challengers Bengaluru and a former Delhi player being in charge. Like then, KKR have notched up four successive wins in the league but even 2012 had begun with two losses. KKR have not lost twice in a row this term. And 2024 may be the first time KKR end the league phase as table-toppers.

“Team mein woh dum dikh raha hai (can see that old verve in the team). They have a very good chance this time,” said Piyush Chawla when asked if KKR could win a third IPL title. Now with MI, Chawla had won it with the Knights in 2014, hitting the winning runs and celebrating arms spread wide like he did on Saturday after dismissing Andre Russell.

Chawla spoke about the efficiency of KKR’s spinners Sunil Narine and Varun Chakravarthy, instrumental in transforming MI’s chase from cruise to crash, and the consistency of their batters.

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Narine starting in fifth gear wasn’t new but his scoring a century in an aggregate of 461 – he was sixth on the run scorers’ list till Sunday’s games – is proof of having worked on batting. He is 39 runs short of being the first player to 15 wickets and 500 runs in an IPL season. Phil Salt (435 runs) has been able company and batting down the order solid when not spectacular.

The latter’s not unusual when barring Narine and Salt, Russell and Ramandeep Singh have been in the mood but it is the stability Venkatesh Iyer, Angkrish Raghuvanshi and Manish Pandey as Impact Player against MI away provided that has been equally important. Else, it could have been difficult to cope with the absence of Nitish Rana, second-highest scorer with 413 runs in 2023, and the lack of impact of Rinku Singh (top scorer in 2023 with 474). Explains why Rana said he had a sleepless night prior to the game. “I was returning after 10 games in a team that was doing well,” he said.

And though not being able to defend 261 and 223 stays a blot, proof of how the bowling has been lies in KKR being able to absorb Mitchell Starc’s general lack of effectiveness at both ends of the innings. KKR haven’t lost after the defeat to Punjab Kings, restricting three of their next four opponents to less than 150 and Delhi Capitals to 153. Fast bowlers have taken 20 of the 35 wickets that have gone to bowlers in those games. Like with KKR’s batting, contributions have come from Harshit Rana, Vaibhav Arora, Russell, and occasionally Starc.

The defeats to Chennai Super Kings and Punjab Kings were one-sided but the loss to Rajasthan Royals came off the last ball. KKR also pulled off close wins against Sunrisers Hyderabad and Royal Challengers Bengaluru, off the last ball and due to Salt’s goalkeeper-like flying dive to effect a run out, but it was how they pulled things back twice against MI that sums up their campaign this term.

“T20 is about momentum and we didn’t get that from the beginning,” said Chawla. The reverse has been true for KKR. “There is belief in the dressing room that someone will step up. For that credit must go to Chandrakant Pandit (coach) and Gauti bhai (Gautam Gambhir, the mentor).” said Rana. “I am a prime example, out for 10 games but they backed me to make an impact in a crucial game.”

There were positives from 2023 and mistakes this time, said Rana, circling back to the loss against Punjab Kings. “That night only three or four ate in the dressing room. ‘Sab dukhi they (everyone was sad).’ Tonight, Salt was so angry at himself on getting out. I was padding up and felt that I should be able to do what he, an in-form player, couldn’t.

“But every time we have felt down as a team, someone was there to put a hand on our shoulder. That wasn’t the case for the past one or two years,” said Rana.

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