Having won the Indian Premier League title once already in 2012, resurgent Kolkata Knight Riders will have all the necessary experience to counter a buoyant Kings XI Punjab in the IPL-7 final on Sunday. (IPL 2014: The Veer-Zaara of a Final)
Despite all the talk about Robin Uthappa's record-breaking run of ten consecutive 40-plus knocks, one man who has been key to the Kolkata Knight Riders' success this year has been their skipper Gautam Gambhir. While Punjab skipper George Bailey always has a ready smile, Gambhir's bluntness and visible intensity in key match situations could prove to be crucial. In fact, his astute captaincy has been crucial in KKR reaching two IPL finals in three years, by no means a mean feat. (Robin Uthappa Eyes Chris Gayle's Record)
"To reach the final of such a high-profile tournament, you need to do well in all three departments of the game," Gambhir told iplt20.com ahead of Sunday's big final against Punjab. (Don't Dare Me Ever, Says Virender Sehwag)
"You don't need to do anything different. 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," he said in his no nonsense style. (Umesh Yadav Attributes Success to Wasim Akram)
KKR have done well this year on the back of Uthappa's sensational form with the bat and some good bowling, whether pace or spin. It is these performances that have led them to win their last eight games in a row in the IPL, which is a record in itself. If Kolkata happen to win the final on Sunday, their winning streak of nine games will create an all-time IPL record. Currently, KKR share their run of eight victories with Punjab, who won their first five games this year, to follow up on the three wins last year.
The best story in the IPL so far, has been scripted by Kings XI Punjab, who not only ended up on top of the points table on their way to the final but also dominated almost every team they played in the group stages. However, the man who took them to the final was clearly Virender Sehwag, as he scored a thunderous 58-ball 122 against the Chennai Super Kings in Qualifer 2. Gambhir was lavish in his praise for the former Delhi Daredevils opener.
"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," said Gambhir about his former Indian opening partner Sehwag.
When asked if the friendship he enjoys with Sehwag will have any impact on Sunday's final, 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."
Gambhir also made a note of how KXIP have been a dangerous side all through this season. He said Kolkata will have to play really well in order to beat their opponents in the final.
"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," said Gambhir
Gambhir was also confident that his players were shaping up nicely ahead of the big final. "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," he said.
The biggest relief for the KKR skipper was the fact that his main weapon in the form of Sunil Narine had made himself available for the big final despite a call from the West Indies board asking him to put his country first. West Indies are scheduled to play a Test series against New Zealand starting June 8 and Narine was asked to report back to the country by the extended deadline of June 1.
"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 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," Gambhir said.
With Gambhir looking fully confident, it's time to roll then for Kolkata Knight Riders! Korbo Lorbo Jeetbo!