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Six years on: The greatest comeback in the history of IPL

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Roar Guru
29th May, 2020
4

It was May 5, 2014. Chasing 171 against the Rajasthan Royals in Ahmedabad, the Kolkata Knight Riders were cruising at 0-121 at the end of 14 overs.

Eight deliveries later, they had slumped to 6-123 and would end up losing the contest by ten runs. From victory being half a mile away, Kolkata had ended up losing their fourth consecutive game. They had no one to blame but themselves.

Two wins in seven games wasn’t acceptable, and the manner in which they had collapsed had seemed like the script of a Bollywood film.

Rather than this game leading to the Knight Riders throwing in the towel halfway through their campaign, it was the game that would end up scripting the greatest comeback in IPL history.

May 7 – Delhi Daredevils vs Kolkata Knight Riders, Feroz Shah Kotla (now Arun Jaitley Stadium), Delhi
Two days after the debacle in Ahmedabad, the Knight Riders faced the Delhi Daredevils – a side who had also won two from seven so far. The experienced Jacques Kallis replaced the energetic Andre Russell for the Knight Riders as Delhi batted first. Despite being disciplined with the ball for 16 overs, four poor overs from the KKR bowlers yielded 54 runs as Delhi posted a competitive 5-160. Skipper Gautam Gambhir and fellow opener Robin Uthappa put on a 106-run opening stand, and this time, there’d be no collapse as the Knight Riders won comfortably by eight wickets in the 19th over.

May 11 – Kings XI Punjab vs Kolkata Knight Riders, Barbadi Stadium, Cuttack
Facing the table-toppers Punjab, Kolkata needed to play their best cricket or else it would be the end of their playoff hopes. Despite taking 1-13 against Delhi in his four overs, Shakib Al Hasan was dropped for Piyush Chawla while Vinay Kumar made way for Morne Morkel as the Knight Riders elected to bowl first. Despite an impressive 72 off 50 by Virender Sehwag, the rest of the Punjab line-up faltered, posting a below-par 8-149. Robin Uthappa scored a quickfire 46 off 28 before Gautam Gambhir (63 off 45) and Manish Pandey (36 off 35) guided Kolkata to a convincing nine-wicket victory.

May 14 – Kolkata Knight Riders vs Mumbai Indians, Barbadi Stadium, Cuttack
This was a home game for the Knight Riders, however, the game was played at a neutral venue due to security pressures during elections in West Bengal. On a slow pitch, Kolkata had the tough decision of dropping Jacques Kallis for Shakib Al Hasan. Kolkata’s spinners were world-class, restricting Mumbai to 5-141. But Mumbai had a bowling attack consisting of Pragyan Ojha, Harbhajan Singh, Jasprit Bumrah and Lasith Malinga – they weren’t going to let this be an easy chase. But 80 off 52 by Robin Uthappa ensured that Kolkata chased this comfortably in the 19th over with six wickets to spare.

May 18 – Sunrisers Hyderabad vs Kolkata Knight Riders, Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, Hyderabad
In what seemed to be an endless run away from Kolkata, the Knight Riders travelled to Hyderabad with momentum on their side. For the first time since their second game, the Knight Riders remained unchanged with their playing XI. Once again, Kolkata’s bowlers were disciplined in their line and length, restricting Sunrisers to 8-142. The chase seemed to derail early when Dale Steyn dismissed Gautam Gambhir for six.

Dale Steyn bowls.

South Africa’s Dale Steyn is a white-ball powerhouse. (Photo by RODGER BOSCH / AFP)

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Robin Uthappa (40 off 33) and Manish Pandey (35 off 32) both got starts but neither could convert to more significant scores as Kolkata needed their middle-order to see them home. Fortunately, Yusuf Pathan (39 off 28) and Ryan ten Doeschate (25 off 15) teed off when the required run rate was climbing as Kolkata won by seven wickets with two balls to spare. From two wins in seven games, the Knight Riders had now won six in 11 games. Momentum was building for them at the right time, and they still had three home games left.

May 20 – Kolkata Knight Riders vs Chennai Super Kings, Eden Gardens, Kolkata
In their first home game at the Eden Gardens in the 2014 edition, there was surprisingly a lot of grass on the wicket, leading to the Knight Riders dropping Morne Morkel for some bloke called Pat Cummins. Boy, did Cummins make an impact. In his second ball of IPL cricket, the speedster from New South Wales knocked out Dwayne Smith’s pegs, and the ball flew behind the keeper to the boundary. It is a beautiful sight to see when a quick is on song.

Pat Cummins

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

A half-century from Suresh Raina (65 off 52) steadied the ship for Chennai, posting 4-154 on a wicket starting to grip. Once again Robin Uthappa stepped up to the occasion, smashing 67 off 39 but his dismissal gave the Super Kings a desperate opening. With Manish Pandey struggling to time the ball, the onus was on Shakib Al Hasan to deliver. And he didn’t fail. Shakib smashed the Chennai bowlers all over the park, and Ben Hilfenhaus felt the full force as he was smashed for 17 runs in four balls. The Bangladesh all-rounder scored a quickfire 46 off 21 as Kolkata won convincingly by eight wickets with 12 balls to spare.

May 22 – Kolkata Knight Riders vs Royal Challengers Bangalore, Eden Gardens, Kolkata
With the Eden Gardens pitch looking pretty flat, Vinay Kumar came in for Piyush Chawla, and Morne Morkel replaced Pat Cummins in the KKR playing XI. Bangalore’s quicks and some quality fielding saw KKR in a bit of trouble at 3-56. But a 121-run stand between Robin Uthappa (83 off 51) and Shakib Al Hasan (60 off 38) propelled KKR to a very competitive score of 4-195. But with the likes of Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Yuvraj Singh in the line-up, Kolkata couldn’t afford to be complacent with the ball.

Umesh Yadav removed Gayle early, and despite an 85-run stand between Yogesh Takawale (45 off 36) and Virat Kohli (38 off 31), Bangalore never got going with the bat. Sachin Rana and Mitch Starc put on 32 for the last three overs, but the damage was already done, and Kolkata defeated Bangalore by 30 runs. With this commanding victory, Kolkata had qualified for the playoffs. But the job wasn’t done yet.

May 24 – Kolkata Knight Riders vs Sunrisers Hyderabad, Eden Gardens, Kolkata
Due to Kolkata’s home game against Mumbai being moved to a neutral venue earlier in the season, the first Qualifier (one versus two) would be played at Eden Gardens. For Kolkata to finish second (Kings XI Punjab locked in first with ease), they had to either win by 39-plus runs or chase down whatever total in 15.2 overs or less. The maths calculators were ready as the match would go on. Kolkata remained unchanged as they elected to field.

Four Sunrisers batsmen got starts of 20, but no one kicked on. They still posted a decent score of 7-160. It was a must-win game for Sunrisers Hyderabad as well, but it was much more difficult for them – they would have to restrict Kolkata to 23 or less. For Kolkata, the equation was simple to finish second: chase down 161 in 15.2 overs or less.

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Despite needing to go at 10.5 an over to finish second, Kolkata’s openers were scoring at 6.5 an over after four overs, taking their time to get their eye in. Gautam Gambhir started to change his gears, smashing Jason Holder for a few boundaries before departing for 28. Sunrisers kept on bowling tight lines as KKR were 2-71 after nine overs, with 90 needed off 38 balls for Kolkata to play the first Qualifier. And then Robin Uthappa fell for 41 before Ryan ten Doeschate was run out off his first ball. KKR were 4-78 after ten overs.

The onus was on Shakib Al Hasan and an out of form Yusuf Pathan to do the improbable. Pathan took on the off spin of Parveez Rasool. It worked as 22 runs were scored in the 11th over. Karn Sharma felt Pathan’s power as well but dismissed Shakib for one. They needed 45 off 20 balls, but Yusuf Pathan was on fire with 40 off 13.

Darren Sammy brought on the economical Dale Steyn to shut up shop. Pathan smashed him for 26 runs in the 13th over as he reached his half century in 15 balls (the quickest in IPL history before KL Rahul broke his record by a ball in 2018). Pathan continued to motor but fell on his 22nd ball for a spectacular 72. Suryakumar Yadav’s quickfire 12 off five balls ensured that KKR chased down 161 in 14.2 overs and ultimately finished second over the Chennai Super Kings based on their superior net run rate.

May 28 – Kings XI Punjab vs Kolkata Knight Riders, Qualifier 1, Eden Gardens, Kolkata
Even though Kings XI were the home side, it was anything but a home game with the Kolkata crowd backing their local team. Torrential rain had caused the game to be delayed from a night game on May 27 to an afternoon game on May 28. With Kolkata preferring to play three spinners at home and with a slow surface on offer, medium pacer Vinay Kumar had made way for leggie Piyush Chawla as Punjab elected to field first.

George Bailey’s decision to bowl paid off as Mitch Johnson dismissed Gautam Gambhir for one. Robin Uthappa (42 off 30) continued his excellent form as he raced to his tenth consecutive 40-plus score before he and Manish Pandey (21 off 20) were dismissed by Axar Patel in the same over. The Kolkata middle order all got starts but couldn’t put individual scores of substance as the Knight Riders fell to 6-145 in the 18th over. A quickfire 17 off nine by Piyush Chawla pushed Kolkata’s total to 6-163 in 20 overs, but would it be enough with a line-up consisting of Virender Sehwag, Glenn Maxwell, David Miller, George Bailey and two talented Indian youngsters in Manan Vohra and Wriddhiman Saha?

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Glenn Maxwell.

(Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Despite losing Sehwag early, Punjab were positive with the bat at 1-39 after five overs. But just when Manan Vohra was threatening to break the game wide open, Morne Morkel had him caught at mid-on for 26. Out came Punjab’s star bat, Glenn Maxwell. But Maxwell looked off colour. He struggled for timing before Umesh Yadav had the Victorian all-rounder gone for a painful six off nine. Whenever Punjab got a partnership going, Gautam Gambhir could rely on any of his five front-line bowlers to take a wicket. Following Maxwell’s wicket, Kings XI started to stray away from victory as they limped their way to 8-135 in the end. Kolkata made their second IPL final while Punjab would live to fight another day, taking on the winner of Chennai Super Kings versus Mumbai Indians in the second Qualifier.

June 1 – Kolkata Knight Riders vs Kings XI Punjab, IPL Final, M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru
This is it. The IPL final. The two best sides of the whole tournament taking on each other in what should be a blockbuster of a contest. Keeping an unchanged XI, Kolkata won the toss and elected to field first. Although runs in a final are like gold, it seemed the right decision considering how batting-friendly the pitch in Bengaluru is.

After starting well in the first few overs, Punjab were restricted to 2-32 in the power play. After ten overs, Punjab were 2-58. This is way below where they should be. What happened next was breathtaking. Wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha found his groove and mercilessly attacked the Kolkata bowlers, sparing no one. Opener Manan Vohra started to change into more aggressive gears as he reached his fifty. The pair added 128 off 72 before Vohra departed for a well made 67. Glenn Maxwell came in only to reverse sweep his first ball straight to the tall frame of Morne Morkel. But Saha didn’t stop his onslaught.

He ripped apart Sunil Narine in the 19th over as he reached his maiden IPL hundred and finished his innings at 115 not out off 55 balls. Kings XI were 4-199 at the innings break and momentum was on their side. Saha played a blinder of an innings and had his team in the driver’s seat. But Kolkata had an in-form Robin Uthappa in their side, and if he got going, Punjab could kiss that trophy goodbye.

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After creaming Mitch Johnson for four through the covers, Uthappa sliced his third ball to point. The man with ten consecutive 40-plus scores this IPL fell for a meagre five. The pressure was on KKR. Gautam Gambhir and Manish Pandey counter-attacked to ensure the required run rate didn’t get out of hand. KKR were 1-59 after the power play and were in a firm position. But a rash shot from Gautam Gambhir halted KKR’s momentum temporarily. Yusuf Pathan (36 off 22) and Pandey picked up the pace soon after to ensure the Knight Riders didn’t lose too much ground after Gambhir’s wicket.

Leg-spinner Karanveer Singh picked up his second wicket of the game as Pathan departed in the 14th over. Pandey replied with a six off the next ball. Shakib Al Hasan scored a quickfire 12 before some brilliant fielding from George Bailey ran out Al Hasan. Ryan ten Doeschate came and went soon after as half the KKR side were back in the shed. They needed 32 off 21. For the third time after a KKR wicket fell. Pandey counter-attacked with a six. And then a four. A wide from Karanveer Singh in the last ball of his spell meant KKR needed 21 off 19. Surely it was game over.

But Singh had other ideas. He fearlessly tossed the ball up and crucially, the ball landed wide of off stump. Pandey tried to slog against the turn and sliced it to George Bailey. He walked off to rounds of applause – after all, he just smashed 94 off 50 on his home ground. But Pandey’s dismissal gave Punjab an opening they desperately needed to stay alive in the final.

Axar Patel bowled a tight 18th over and KKR needed 15 off 12. Suryakumar Yadav took on a Mitch Johnson off cutter, only for Manan Vohra to take a sitter at deep midwicket. With the last recognised batsman gone, it was down to the bowlers to win the game. The same bowlers who had won games with the ball were now required to score 13 off ten. Johnson pitched it up for three balls, conceding only two runs in the process. For some reason, Johnson finished his spell with a bouncer. Piyush Chawla hooked it away past square leg for six.

Parvinder Awana was given the last over, and with only five runs to defend, he had nothing to lose. He nailed his yorkers twice as KKR needed four off four. The Kings XI pacer bowled a low full toss, Chawla sliced it past point, and it runs away for four.

Kolkata had won their second IPL title, and Piyush Chawla was running like an absolute madman around the ground. Manish Pandey was adjudged man of the match for his heroics, but spare a thought for Wriddhiman Saha, who scored the first hundred in an IPL final, yet fell on the runners-up side.

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It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly got Kolkata to win nine games in a row en route to their second IPL title. But having a coach like Trevor Bayliss and a captain like Gautam Gambhir ensures the dressing room remained calm even during the tough times.

Gautam Gambhir

(Prakash Singh/AFP via Getty Images)

Getting Robin Uthappa to open from their sixth game paid dividends as he ended the campaign as the leading run-scorer with 660 runs in 16 games. The 2014 IPL convinced the English Cricket Board to appoint Bayliss a year later as he had shown that he had the ability to win a tournament even when everything seemed down – something that was needed in the English dressing room during the 2019 World Cup.

Sir Alex Ferguson once said that attack wins you games, but defence wins you titles. Something similar can be said for T20 cricket or cricket tournaments in general – batsmen may win you games, but bowlers will win you titles. And that’s precisely what Kolkata’s bowlers did. In 16 games, Kolkata averaged 143.25 runs conceded per match. Only once did the opposition score a total in excess of 175. And when that happened for KKR, their batsmen won them the game in the final.

Kolkata won the 2014 tournament with swag, and with flair. From one of the most embarrassing defeats in IPL history, they not only turned a corner, but they just kept on winning, and no one could stop them. Kolkata’s winning streak didn’t end in the 2014 IPL final. In the 2014 Champions League T20 tournament, Kolkata won five games on the trot, extending their winning streak to 14 games before losing to the Chennai Super Kings in the CLT20 final.

With the likes of Jacques Kallis, Morne Morkel, Sunil Narine, Gautam Gambhir, Shakib Al Hasan, Chris Lynn and Andre Russell in one squad, it’s important to put ego aside. And that’s what Gautam Gambhir managed to achieve successfully. Jacques Kallis didn’t play in the latter half of the tournament, but he was still a team man and helped the Indian youngsters in training. After KKR won the final, Kallis stayed back in India for the fanfare that would happen in Kolkata – something he couldn’t do after KKR won in 2012 due to national team commitments.

As a Kolkata fan, I’ve seen the mediocre years of KKR from the inauguration of IPL until the third season. But a massive overhaul and the purchase of Gautam Gambhir saw a change of fortunes. From being the joke of the IPL, Kolkata won two IPL titles in four seasons. Despite it being six years since KKR last won an IPL trophy, I don’t think any team will be able to topple the manner in which KKR turned around their 2014 fortunes and went on a massive unbeaten streak en route to becoming champions.