Kolkata Knight Riders Prove Early-Season Form Doesn't Matter with IPL 7 Final Win

Richard MorganContributor IJune 1, 2014

Kolkata Knight Riders captain Gautam Gambhir sits next to the winning trophy of the Indian Premier League (IPL) during a photo call on the eve of the final match against Chennai Super Kings, in Chennai, India, Saturday, May 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)
Aijaz Rahi/Associated Press

In American politics it is often referred to as the "Big Mo," and in Sunday’s Indian Premier League final the Kolkata Knight Riders proved that gaining momentum at the right time is absolutely crucial to winning the tournament as Gautam Gambhir and Co. overcame the Kings XI Punjab by three wickets in Bangalore.

The Knight Riders had of course begun IPL 7 in less than convincing fashion, losing five of their first seven league fixtures in both the United Arab Emirates and India, the second of those losses coming against Punjab by 23 runs in Abu Dhabi last month as the franchise suffered four reverses on the trot.

All of which meant that Kolkata were left with very little room for manoeuvre as they prepared to play their final seven contests in the league phase knowing that one more slip-up could mean the end of their tournament for another year.

However, in many ways competing under that type of extreme pressure, where every match is in effect a knockout game, can really harden the mind of the players and prepare the team well if they do manage to qualify for the latter stages of the competition.

And that is exactly what happened with the Knight Riders this year as the franchise turned their stuttering early-season form completely on its head to wheel off seven wins in a row in the second half of the tournament and earn a second-place finish to their league campaign behind the Kings XI.

One of those seven successive victories was a thumping nine-wicket demolition of Punjab in Cuttack earlier this month that gave Kolkata great confidence going into their knockout qualifier against the same opponents at Eden Gardens last week, which the home side won by 28 runs to record a second straight triumph over the Kings XI.

Consequently, when it came to Sunday’s final at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, the smart money was on the Knight Riders making it nine consecutive victories in IPL 7, including three in a row against George Bailey’s men.

And that is exactly what happened, although it was far from a straightforward path to glory for Kolkata after Punjab had racked up an imposing 199 for four having been sent into bat by Gambhir.

But the Knight Riders were able to fall back and rely on the mountains of confidence that inevitably come from having won your previous eight games in a row to become not just the second-ever side to successfully chase down 200 to win in Bangalore but also only the second franchise after the Chennai Super Kings to claim the IPL on two occasions.

In particular it was the self-belief to maintain a daunting rate of 10 runs per over even after first losing Robin Uthappa, the highest run-scorer in the competition, for just five in the opening over, and then their skipper with the score on 59, that ultimately saw Kolkata over the line with only three wickets and three balls remaining.

In the end, though, it was that unstoppable momentum which has been built up during these past nine wins that helped man-of-the-match Manish Pandey blast 94 from just 50 balls, including seven fours and six sixes, to take his side to within sight of the finishing line.

And when Pandey threw his wicket away trying to reach a second IPL hundred with a six with still 21 runs needed for victory, it was left to little leg-spinner Piyush Chawla to continue that Big Mo by first hooking Mitchell Johnson into the stands for six, and then slicing Parvinder Awana away for the winning boundary four.