By Jamie Alter
On a night in which frivolity was a constant feature across two innings, Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) ended up on the losing side. If we are to look at their defeat against Mumbai Indians and point out where the match was lost, it would be with the bat. When it mattered most, the KRR line-up was guilty of choosing the rash over the reliable.
It was a surprising that the big names lost the plot after doing so well to help their team to the knockout stage. KKR had never reached this far. In 2008, struggling to find the right balance, they finished at sixth place with just six wins from 14 matches. In 2009, dogged by captaincy issues and an anonymous blogger, they were the wooden spoon holders. They performed better in 2010, but a 50% success rate meant that once again Shah Rukh Khan’s team failed to make it into the final four.
Wholesale changes were made at the fourth player auction in January, with Gautam Gambhir being drafted in from Delhi Daredevils for big bucks, and Jacques Kallis, Brett Lee and Yusuf Pathan being hauled in to buttress the batting and bowling. There was the furore in Kolkata about the snubbing of Sourav Ganguly, but as KKR got off to a super start in 2011 all was forgotten. This new side had a solid, winning look about it and the good part was that there was little chopping and changing. Though lacking another fast bowler, KKR were making up with the efforts of Lakshmipathy Balaji and Rajat Bhatia. Jacques Kallis and Gambhir provided runs at the top, Manoj Tiwary held up the middle order, and the spin duo of Pathan and Iqbal Abdulla tied down the opposition.
So what happened when push came to shove, after KKR successfully broke into the knock-out stage for the first time? Kallis can be forgiven for driving on the rise, for it is a shot he most often than not succeeds in scurrying to the boundary, but the likes of Gambhir, Sreevats Goswami, Tiwary and Pathan fell apart in the face of some accurate bowling by Munaf Patel, Harbhajan Singh and Dhawal Kulkarni.
Perhaps it was the adrenalin, perhaps not. On the eve of this match Sunil Gavaskar advocated the importance of Gambhir, stressing that KKR could only benefit from the left-hander’s tactical nous which comes when he keeps a cool head. It wasn’t to be: having charged out at the first sight of Harbhajan Singh, Gambhir played an unconvincing drive over the covers and then, after three restless dot balls, attempted a slog-sweep only to miss completely and be bowled.
All Munaf had to do was pitch it short and instead of trying to weather the storm, KKR’s batsmen attempted ill-advised, expansive strokes. Having been stopped by Kallis on the way to the middle and warned about Munaf’s short deliveries, Goswami allowed himself just two balls before leaping aside and playing the crudest of hacks when Munaf unfurled the bouncer. The outer edge was pouched and KKR had lost three for nothing.
Tiwary, after being bounced off successive deliveries from Lasith Malinga – the first of which nearly knocked his head off – tried to do something different and paid the price. With Kulkarni simply pitching the ball on the stumps, Tiwary dangerously ambled across his stumps and was caught stone dead. All three batsmen had fallen while trying to force the pace.
At 20 for four inside the Powerplay, KKR had their worst start of the season in their most important match. Previously they had lost three wickets inside the first six overs just twice, against Kochi Tuskers Kerala and Royal Challengers Bangalore respectively, and had ended up losers both times. With their three best batsmen gone - and the three on whom they had soared in 2011 – KKR were under a new sort of pressure.
Pathan had already been surprised by Patel’s pace on the bouncer as a top-edged pull sailed over the wicketkeeper for four, but couldn’t curb his enthusiasm and tried to pull Munaf again only to pick out long-on. Ryan ten Doeschate displayed his class as well as giving a reason for his inclusion on a regular basis, but ultimately 147 wasn’t enough.
It was a case of getting carried away by the occasion and the need to dominate. Where a couple overs could have been played out watchfully, the batsmen chose to be flashy. It hurt KKR badly. They fought valiantly in the field after being battered around the park by MI’s openers, but that sort of dedication was lacking with the bat.
Gambhir signed off the season as a proud captain and complimented his team on playing good cricket. By KKR’s standards this season was a roaring success, and the signs are that this unit will continue to improve. They get along well, have the right parts working, and in Gambhir they have a capable leader. KKR can only learn from their mistakes today, and come back wiser for the experience. A certain franchise from the south followed a similar path in the first IPL only to stumble in the semi-finals, but they went on to clinch the trophy two seasons later on the back of a solid machinery and smart captaincy. KKR could follow.
(Jamie Alter is a freelance cricket writer, having worked at ESPNcricinfo and All Sports Magazine. He is the author of two books, The History of World Cup Cricket and Field of Dreams: The Story of the Dr. DY Patil Sports Stadium. His twitter feed is @jamie_alter)