The Kolkata Knight Riders kept their collective calm in a high-scoring final for the second time in three years to become one of the most successful teams of the IPL. Manish Pandey’s 94 off 50 balls helped the side pull off a chase of 200 and despite Kings XI Punjab coming back with several late strikes, Kolkata sneaked home in the thriller with three balls and three wickets to spare. With their ninth win in a row of the edition, Kolkata joined the Chennai Super Kings, whom they had defeated in the final two years ago, as the only side to have claimed multiple IPL trophies.
The final did not follow any of the pre-game narratives, with most of the big names touted as the players-to-watch-for failing to contribute. For Punjab, who lost the toss and were asked to bat, the combine of Glenn Maxwell, David Miller, George Bailey and Virender Sehwag, whom reputation and recent history have marked out as match winners, could only manage nine runs between the four of them. Instead, it was Wriddhiman Saha who came up with the most destructive innings in an IPL final so far. The wicket-keeper batsman smashed his way to a 55-ball unbeaten 115 and was instrumental in Punjab reaching 199/4 batting first. If his uncompromising hitting was scarcely believable, so was the fact that such a knock could actually end up in a losing cause. It was equally bizzare that Punjab’s Akshar Patel (four overs for 21 runs), the only bowler to have gone at less than six runs an over in a game where 400 runs were scored in less than 40 overs, also did not end the day with his hands around the trophy.
Big names flop
Continuing with the theme of the failure of the big names, neither Robin Uthappa, who had scored 40 or more in his last eight innings, nor Sunil Narine, in the running for the purple cap, did the job for the Knight Riders. After Pandey’s assault, it was eventually left to Piyush Chawla to win the game for Kolkata. After a cramping Pandey had holed out in the 17th over, followed two balls later by the dismissal of Suryakumar Yadav, Kolkata had seemingly thrown away their measured chase with a rash of wickets at the end. They had gone at more or less the 10 runs an over that was required to win the game through the chase, but now found themselves needing 13 runs off ten balls with the ultra-quick Mitchell Johnson having a chance to run through their tail and claim the three wickets needed for Punjab’s maiden IPL title triumph.
The left-arm pacer, who had kept Chawla and Narine guessing with his yorkers until then, suddenly reverted to a short ball. Chawla, though, seemed to be waiting, and pulled him for a six to get the equation down to less than a run a ball for the first time in the match. When Parvinder Awana angled one across him in the next over, Chawla cut him fiercely and wheeled away in celebration as the ball reached the fence. Orange Cap-winner Uthappa was one of the first to haul Chawla down in a celebratory embrace, but Pandey must have been an equally relieved man.
Coming in at the fall of Uthappa’s wicket in the very first over must have been a disorienting experience for Pandey — after all it had not happened any time recently, but the Karnataka batsman nonetheless kept his foot pressed on the accelerator right away. He flicked Johnson to the fence off the first ball he faced and proceeded to do that each time Punjab threatened to stifle the chase with a wicket. When Gambhir was out of the first ball of the seventh over, mis-hitting Karanveer Singh to long on, Pandey responded by striking the leg spinner for six over cover the next ball. Yusuf Pathan (who became the only player to win the IPL title thrice), after a 22-ball 36, was the next to go, also finding long on off Karanveer, but Pandey once again responded with a six and a four off the next two legal deliveries.
More of the same
Shakib Al Hasan came and went after that and when Ryan Ten Doeschate departed in the 17th over, with still 32 required of 21 balls, Pandey once more followed up the dismissal with a six and a four. Though he was out off the last ball of the same Karanveer over, he had taken Kolkata close enough for Chawla to push them over the line.
Earlier, Saha single-handedly made light of the failure of the big names in his side with a show of unapologetic ball striking. Sent in ahead of Maxwell and Miller, Saha came in when 5.1 overs had already been sent down, but in a display of clever hitting and awareness, would face 55 off the remaining 89 balls.
Gambhir had Morne Morkel and Umesh Yadav use the bounce in the Bangalore wicket. Sehwag was unable to ride the bounce of a Yadav delivery and when Narine had George Bailey, who had promoted himself up the order, out bowled in the last powerplay over, Gambhir seemed to have made all the right calls. Manan Vohra and Saha consolidated as Gambhir rushed through his overs with the help of his spinners in Shakib, Chawla and Narine. After 10 overs, Punjab were still only on 58/2. Saha, who was on 15 off 16 balls at this point, would pretty much take it on himself to get his side to a competitive score.
Retaining the strike and targetting his favourite on-side, Saha made sure he faced 39 off the remaining 60 balls, scoring a whopping 100 runs off them. By contrast, the rest of the Punjab batsmen managed only 41 runs in the last ten overs. In a final that was not short of surprises or twists, Saha’s stellar knock — the highest in any T20 final — went in vain.