Korbo Lorbo Jeetbo Re. These words finally will make some sense to cricket fans and especially those of the Kolkata Knight Riders; especially if the team goes on to win the IPL this year. Led by Gautam Gambhir, Kolkata has come a long way from being one of the wooden spooners to one of the table toppers of the competition. It has been a phenomenal turnaround for a team which many thought at a point of time, would never win the Indian Premier League. Perhaps, Shah Rukh Khan’s patience and a change in the team management and their attitude have done wonders to the team’s fortunes.
Last year in the IPL auction, SRK and co. decided to revamp the Knight Riders roster which had failed miserably in the first three seasons. Under Sourav Ganguly and Brendon McCullum’s stewardship, the team never went above the sixth position in the points table and this made Kolkata the only franchise not to have made it to the semifinals of the IPL back then. Hence, Ganguly was not just removed but dumped which caused a lot of agitation amongst Kolkata’s fans and SRK was criticized for it especially. McCullum was not selected until this year, when he was bought back in the auction since Kochi Tuskers Kerala is no more a part of the IPL. Only a couple of Bengal players are a part of the current team as well, but the Knight Riders had clearly learnt from their failures.
Gautam Gambhir replaced Sourav Ganguly as the Fuhrer of the team, a few days after he was bought for $USD 2.4 million from Delhi Daredevils, a record in the IPL so far since it makes Gambhir officially the most expensive player in the history of the competition. Followed by which, Yusuf Pathan was bid heavily for and Kolkata won that battle, having to pay $USD 2.1 million to acquire his services. Kolkata meant business for sure and they followed that by picking those foreign players who were accustomed to play the T20 format very well, such as Jacques Kallis and Shakib al Hasan, who are two of the world’s best all-rounders at the moment, Brett Lee, Eoin Morgan, Ryan ten Doeschate, James Pattinson and Brad Haddin. With other Indian players such as Rajat Bhatia, Lakshmipathy Balaji and Manvinder Bisla, the team seems to be very balanced in terms of the Indian and foreign players and covered the weaknesses that the squad had in the past.
Kolkata had a wonderful 2011 season, having beaten teams such as the Rajasthan Royals, Chennai Super Kings, Delhi Daredevils, Kings XI Punjab at least once. They ended up fourth on the points table, despite losing to the likes of Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kochi Tuskers Kerala twice and Mumbai Indians once. Mumbai was the team which knocked Kolkata out of the IPL, by beating them at home in the eliminator match. But there were standout performances from the likes of Jacques Kallis and the rookie Iqbal Abdulla. For the first time, the Knight Riders had played as a ‘team’ and not as a team of individuals, as big names were not relied upon for victory. Every player played his role decently enough and Gambhir’s captaincy was inspiring enough, having formed a fine rapport with not just the players but also the coaching staff and the owners.
The team did not face much off-the-field controversies as well, since the focus was producing the best quality cricket even if it was the expense of losing out on brand value. Kolkata was eligible to qualify for the Champions League T20 2011 for the first time ever; having anyway finished fourth by the time Chennai won the IPL final. The team just managed to qualify for that tournament, beating New Zealand’s Auckland Aces in a tight game and losing to South Australia Redbacks by a slightly low margin.
Kolkata lost the first two group games to South Australia and Somerset, but staged an impressive comeback to beat IPL rivals Royal Challengers Bangalore in Bangalore and the Chevrolet Warriors at the same venue. Unfortunately, their net run rate was lower than that of Royal Challengers Bangalore and so they were knocked out of the competition in the group stage itself. Yet, the Knight Riders looked a promising team which had the capacity to become one of the best T20 sides in the world in the future.
Yet, the team fortunately felt that they needed to improve it further. Even as they have an excellent mélange of all-rounders, wicket-taking and containing bowlers, and those batsmen who can attack and defend both. As a result, Brendon McCullum was bought back by Kolkata for $USD 900,000 since Brad Haddin has taken a sabbatical from cricket. This filled up the slot of a world class foreign wicketkeeper batsman. Sunil Narine of Trinidad and Tobago was bought for as much as $USD 750,000 following his impressive performances in India in the winter season of 2011. This ensured that Kolkata had a decent foreign spinner, which was missing the previous season. While Marchant de Lange of South Africa was purchased more as a replacement for the injured James Pattinson, rather than a support quick bowler to Brett Lee.
While de Lange has had a poor IPL, McCullum has been average. He has kept wickets well, but has not been able to give the Knight Riders his customary quick fire starts. This is one of the few weaknesses Kolkata has at the moment, going into the final. However, since Gautam Gambhir has been in sublime form in this edition of the tournament, McCullum did not mind taking the back seat and did not play his natural game, as he wished to give most of the strike of Gambhir. In this sense, the otherwise flamboyant Kiwi wicketkeeper bat has been impressive.
But Sunil Narine has easily taken the tournament by storm. There has been not even one batsman who has got the better of the Trinidad and Tobago off spinner. His carrom ball may remind many of Ajantha Mendis, but I think he is likely to survive longer than him. Narine has made maximum use of the spin friendly conditions in Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai which explains why Kolkata were successful in all these places this season. He is the second highest wicket taker in the IPL 2012, with 24 wickets in 14 games. Perhaps, Narine could prove to be the ultimate difference between KKR and the rest of the teams, if they win the IPL final on Sunday.
This is not to say that there has been no role of the others. Gautam Gambhir and Sunil Narine have been the pillars of the Knight Riders’ success so far in 2012, but the rest of the team have supported both of them well enough. Although Jacques Kallis and Manoj Tiwary did not perform the same way like they did in 2011, they were not that poor this time around. Yusuf Pathan has had his worst IPL season so far, but his unbeaten 40 the other night against Delhi Daredevils was a much needed knock for a team which was struggling in that game.
There have also been unnoticed performers such as Rajat Bhatia, Debabrata Das and Laxmi Ratan Shukla. Wow! This is an impressive looking side, and so gifted that they can be called one of the powerhouses of the IPL. Kolkata’s turnaround is a perfect example of the saying ‘Better late than never’. It proves that no matter what, always have hope within you, then you will win in life. Let’s hope that the Men in Purple and Gold finally win and make SRK dance at the Chepauk, giving his fans a treat all around the world as well as to himself, as he has unfortunately been the topic of several controversies in the last few months.