At the start of the IPL 7 in UAE, a star-studded Kolkata Knight Riders, which boasted of big names like Morne Morkel, Jacques Kallis and Sunil Narine, were expected to be one of the major contenders for the title. They found fairway early in their campaign with a win against defending champions Mumbai Indians, but soon hit the rough, losing three of their next five matches.
However, the team witnessed a major turn-around in their fortunes, winning seven successive matches after their infamous slip-up against Rajasthan Royals in Ahmedabad – a game which saw the 43-year old Pravin Tambe taking a stunning hat-trick in two balls, and Kolkata Knight Riders losing six wickets for two runs.
Hardly anybody would have hoped for Kolkata Knight Riders reaching the playoffs after their disastrous batting collapse against Rajasthan Royals, but no later, the team scripted an unprecedented twist in the tale – one which would have given Hitchcock a run for his money.
After an indifferent start, winning seven games on the trot is no easy feat for any team. Therefore, it would be meaningless to regard KKR’s meteoric surge as a fluke. Whether it was their captain Gautam Gambhir, who became a focus of the Twitterati after his hat-trick of ducks, or the failure of Jacques Kallis to live up to his grandiose reputation, Kolkata Knight Riders had endured several turbulent phases that had constrained their title hopes.
Yusuf Pathan: The 31-year-old all-rounder from Baroda has borne witness to several ups and downs in his cricketing career, and Saturday’s match against Sunrisers Hyderabad will be remembered as one of his finest performances as a batsman. Over the years, the out-of-favour India player has developed a reputation as a burly pinch-hitter in the shortest format of the game.
Having featured in all seven editions of the IPL, Yusuf has played 104 matches, scoring 2032 runs at an average of 26.74. On Saturday, he added another feather to his cap, scoring the fastest fifty in IPL history, bettering Adam Gilchrist by a slight margin.
Robin Uthappa: In the age of T20 cricket, where batting techniques are constantly re-invented, very few batsmen have stood out and succeeded without tampering with the classical approach. Robin Uthappa is one such name in this list of exceptions.
The 28-year-old Karnataka batsman has tasted immense success in the ongoing IPL season without compromising his technique. His batting ethos are still firmly rooted in technical finesse, with a wide array of shots to choose from. The ‘Dilscoop’ or the ‘switch-hit’ are no where to be found, but Uthappa is still able to score runs at a brisk pace.
This year, Uthappa has shone for Kolkata Knight Riders, scoring 613 runs from 14 games. He is in fact the highest run-scorer in the ongoing edition, followed by Chennai Super Kings’s Dwayne Smith (535 runs) and Kings XI Punjab’s Glen Maxwell (533 runs).
The weak chords
Manish Pandey: The first Indian batsman to score a century in the IPL, Manish Pandey hasn’t quite lived up to his expectations in the ongoing edition. Scores of 2, 13, 18*, 35 and 14 in his last five outings don’t make an impressive reading.
Overall, the 24-year-old player from Uttaranchal has scored 286 runs from 14 matches at a modest average of 26.
Vinay Kumar: The 30-year-old medium pacer from Karnataka does not have the threatening pace and bounce of team-mate Morne Morkel, but he is considered valuable for his ability to swing the ball from good areas.
The former Royal Challengers Bangalore seamer was purchased by Kolkata Knight Riders to strengthen their bowling arsenal; however, his performance in the current season has been far from satisfactory.
In the 9 matches he has played for the Kolkata franchise, Kumar has taken 7 wickets with an expensive economy rate of 8.72. His best bowling figures in the tournament, 2/26, came against Royal Challengers Bangalore in Sharjah. While he extracted decent purchase from the wickets in the UAE, he has struggled to contain the flow of runs in India.
Shakib Al Hasan: The useful all-rounder has had a string of impressive performances in the ongoing IPL season. Along with team-mate Sunil Narine, Shakib has the best economy rate (6.30) in the current season. He has also scored 197 runs from 11 matches at an impressive average of 39.40 with one half-century.
Morne Morkel: If there is one bowler in KKR’s arsenal who could threaten Punjab’s rampaging batting trio of Maxwell, Miller and Bailey, it is Morne Morkel.
The tall South African pacer has had an indifferent tournament thus far, but his threatening pace and bounce can hardly be ignored as a potential match-winning factor. Morne has taken 10 wickets from 10 games at an economy rate of 7.60 in the ongoing tournament.
He went for quite a few runs in his last five outings, but Gautam Gambhir can still seek redemption with his menacing ability to threaten the confidence of batting sides. After all, no batsman – however good he may be – likes to face deliveries that are sent straight down his throat at a pace of 145-plus kmph. This ability makes him a big surprise element in Kolkata Knight Riders’ crucial play-off game against Kings XI Punjab.