The hallowed Indian Premier League finally met its conclusion last night as Chennai Super Kings defied the 2012 curse to turn around the proceedings in their favour and emerge as the champions with brutal dominance in the finale. Despite a brilliant start from the Kolkata Knight Riders with the bat in their hand, another middle-order collapse reeling in agony as they fell short of the monstrous target by 27 runs.
However, it wasn’t entirely a defeat for the Purple and Gold Brigade because when the tournament resumed after a hiatus of almost five months, forget the finals, no one would have even come close to predicting that Kolkata was going to make the playoffs. One change to the side brought about a dynamic shift in their batting fortunes and that was in the introduction of Venkatesh Iyer. With all said and done, this season was a fairy tale for the Knights because they made the impossible happen.
Even though the hallowed silverware eluded them but the fact that they reached their third final in the glittering antiquity of the fray was a victory in itself. A team that was made from scraps and had their leader completely off his element needed some inspiring performances to be shown the way. Who would have thought that it would come through two youngsters who were relentless in their pursuit of business? In this story, we will take a quick glance at five positives that Kolkata Knight Riders managed from the ongoing season.
Five positives for Kolkata Knight Riders this season
The discovery of Venkatesh Iyer
In the first phase of the contest, KKR desperately needed someone who could have given them a fiery start as the IPL 2021 finalists lagged heavily in the powerplay. Not only did they have poor starts but they were losing wickets like a house of cards in front of a battering cyclone. Their middle-order never looked steady and with Morgan’s lackluster displays, things got even harder. This is exactly where Venkatesh Iyer took over the reins and blew life into their aspirations. The youngster started with a dominant 41 against RCB and followed it up with a belter of a half-century against the reigning champions of the preceding year, Mumbai Indians.
He fell short against the Super Kings and the Capitals but came back strongly against the Punjab Kings. Despite a rare failure against the Sunrisers, he came out all guns blazing against Royals, Royal Challengers Bangalore in the eliminator, Delhi Capitals in the qualifier and Chennai Super Kings in the final. Most importantly, he has been an aggressive opener, something that KKR lacked since the last year. He is also a decent all-rounder with a couple of fruitful overs that saw him bagging countless plaudits from all around the globe. His find was probably the most illustrious positive that Kolkata will embrace with arms wide open.
Sunil Narine – a Titan Redivivus
Ever since Sunil Narine was pulled out for his action against Kings XI Punjab in 2020, he never looked like the menacing version of himself. He was just one of those nondescript spinners trying to make his bread and butter with mediocrity. Even when the 2021 IPL started, he continued with the same mediocrity and there was no silverlining in the sky either. However, Kolkata believed and when the party arrived in UAE, he proved to be the game-changer in all aspects of it. He started the UAE phase with two thunderous showdowns against Mumbai and Bangalore and followed it up with a rambunctious display against Chennai despite being battered in the first three overs.
He won the game for Kolkata against the Capitals with an extraordinary bowling display and an excellent showdown with the bat that razed Kagiso Rabada to drub Delhi. He couldn’t manage a wicket against the Sunrisers but his figures were 4-0-12-0 which are deemed as excellent in the context of T20 cricket. The Caribbean mystery man brought Royal Challengers Bangalore down to its knees with an extraordinary brand of performance that saw him rack up four crucial scalps and score imperative 26 runs with the bat that eliminated RCB from the equation. In the finale, when all the other KKR bowlers struggled, Narine was the solitary silverlining as he claimed two wickets and conceded only 26 runs. His all-round cameos made Kolkata reminisce about the titan that they once bought. It felt like a sleeping giant finally waking to the call of duty and took down everyone that came in his path of obliteration.
Shivam Mavi’s resurgence
Mavi was just another stop-gap fast bowler in the opening phase of the tournament and when the contest resumed in UAE for its second phase, it never seemed like that he was going to make anything out of it. He was warming the benches for the first three games and when Krishna cost KKR the important match against CSK, that is when the awakening in the management happened and they decided to use Mavi in place of Prasidh. He couldn’t really hit his stride against Punjab but sparks of brilliance flew.
He came all guns blazing at Sunrisers and topped it with a notch better performance that saw him racking a quartet of Rajasthani batters with an excellent illustration of line and length. He got hammered by RCB but once again was successful against Delhi Capitals in the qualifier and Chennai Super Kings in the final. In fact, he played a little cameo at the end of the final with the bat that definitely entertained the Kolkata fans for all the right reasons. Kolkata struggled vehemently with the position of an Indian fast bowler. They rotated heavily between Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Prasidh Krishna, Sandeep Warrier and Mavi. Eventually, the U19 World Cup hero for India had the last laugh.
Rahul Tripathi – the unsung hero
When Kolkata started their campaign in India for the ongoing edition, their fielding was all over the place and they needed someone who could plug the glaring leaks. Rahul Tripathi came with brick and mortar and the others followed. From that incredible catch of Virat Kohli to those electrifying rushes in the outfield to keep those twos down to singles and those singles down to naught, he made McCullum quote that if they are looking forward to having eleven players on the pitch everyone must exhibit a similar mindset like the one of Tripathi.
Not only was he a tremendous fielder for the Knights but his batting heroics were of equal importance. A fine 74 against Mumbai underlined his majestic brilliance while a stunning 45 against Chennai levelled the odds for a shaky start. Had it not been for him, Kolkata could have stared at a blatant collapse against Punjab. In the second qualifier when KKR managed to slip through down the pecking order right from being on top of the game, it was his crackling strike that sealed the deal under pressure for KKR. His injury proved to be of extreme ramification to the Knights in the final as that was the first blow to the batting aspirations of the Knight even before the game started.
The opening partnership of Shubman Gill and Venkatesh Iyer
If you place Kolkata under the scanner, you would still find that the middle-order woes of the Knights were simply existing under the creamy layer of an almost impregnable opening partnership between Gill and Iyer. The duo was relentless in pursuit of brilliance as they stitched together incredible stands between themselves that included the likes of 91 in the final, 96 in the qualifier against Capitals, 41 against Royal Challengers Bangalore in the eliminator, 40 against Mumbai and 82 against Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Though one may argue that Varun Chakravarthy was of greater importance than the opening pair but being candid Chakravarthy existed even in the first leg and it didn’t really create the impact that this new duo of Iyer and Gill could impose. Kolkata always had a strong bowling lineup but what they lacked was an impressive batting unit. Maybe things really didn’t change as one would have planned but it certainly changed by almost an entire paradigm to catapult Kolkata from the bottom places to the grand finale.