Gautam Gambhir, the Kolkata Knight Riders captain, has said that the side's decision to keep the faith in their "core group" of players, including Yusuf Pathan, has been a factor in their strong performance this season.
Yusuf, who had a series of low scores throughout this IPL, came good in the first qualifier against Delhi Daredevils on Tuesday, his unbeaten 40 off 21 deliveries crucial in taking Knight Riders to the final.
"After we lost to Chennai Super Kings, at Eden Gardens, I was asked why I stick to the core group of players... the answer is, because I want them to believe that I have complete faith in them," Gambhir said after the qualifier. "Only that can boost them to give their best. That only will make them stand up to these tough challenges. I was also asked why I persist with Yusuf Pathan. I have always said that he is a magical player and that he will come good when it would matter the most. I was proved right today."
Mahela Jayawardena, the Delhi Daredevils batsman, said that the partnership between Yusuf and Laxmi Shukla - 56 runs in four overs - took the game away from his side. "In a Twenty20 game, it is tough to say anyone is out of form," Jayawardena said. "I think there was a great platform for him [Yusuf] to come and play his natural game, which is hitting the ball clean. Our guys bowled a few good yorkers. When they did not hit those zones marginally, he hit a few good [shots]. Laxmi batted really well too. I think his cameo gave Yusuf the confidence to go after our guys."
Gambhir said that after their narrow loss to Kings XI Punjab, Kolkata Knight Riders could have dropped players, which he was not in favour of. "We could have easily chopped and changed when we lost to Kings XI. We could have easily made harsh decisions but it is important [to] stick to the core group of players and make them believe that everyone backs them. Maybe that's one of the reasons we have done well.
"The players who are there in the KKR dressing room are there because I have complete faith in them. Whoever sits in the dressing room, I completely back them. That is why they are part of KKR.
"Everyone has been talking about Yusuf and Manoj Tiwary, but the way Manoj batted in Mumbai, those 40  runs he made were as important as any runs in the tournament. I have always mentioned that those small contributions make you win games. For me Shukla's contribution [24 not out off 11] made the difference [in the qualifier]. It is not about someone getting 60 or 70 at the top of the order. It is about someone who comes lower down the order or someone like Rajat Bhatia who can bowl two-three overs at a good economy-rate."
When asked about Brett Lee missing out on the playing XI, Gambhir said that no one was bigger than the team. "It is about the best XI that is going to go out and win the game for us. It is not about Brett Lee. It is not about individuals. From me to Jacques Kallis to no one. If I feel that I am not hitting the ball well and there is someone else who can do the job for KKR, I will be the first one sitting out. It will always be about KKR when I am [in charge]."
Brendon McCullum, the Kolkata Knight Riders wicketkeeper and former captain, called Gambhir an "outstanding" leader, saying that he had led from the front. "He is very soft-spoken in the changing room and around the group, and on the field he leads through performance and through actions," McCullum told IPLT20.com. "Technically, he has been very good and has used Sunil Narine incredibly well and he has got a lot out of the other guys as well. He has been excellent as a captain so far."
Gambhir, McCullum's opening partner, has been Knight Riders' best batsman by some distance this season, making six half-centuries compared to the three fifties the rest of his batsmen have scored in all. "He has been hitting the ball as well as anyone in the tournament," McCullum said. "I, from the other end, try to give him strike - that is probably the reverse of the roles that we thought of at the start of the tournament. I can't take credit [for] the partnerships where he has played beautifully and made my work easy, and I just try to hang in around and get him on strike."