The concept of David and Goliath is quite relevant to Twenty20 cricket, more than the other two formats. On any given day, the stronger team can be undone by a little chutzpah from the opposition, and there you have your analogical moment to write home about.
However, this doesn’t apply to most situations in the Indian Premier League. Thanks to the annual auctions, and the ever-changing balance of various franchises, you seldom get a team that is deemed “favourites” before the coin toss. If you really want to stretch this argument, maybe Chennai Super Kings used to fit that bill, almost. Without getting into the machinations of how they retained their squad balance year after year, under MS Dhoni, that team was near unbeatable.
But if the key point here is balance, the team that has come the closest to getting this key element right again and again is the Kolkata Knight Riders under Gautam Gambhir. They haven't been dominant as Chennai, but when they get their formula right, they can be pretty unstoppable. Somewhat like this season; their openers are in form, they have a host of pace options to choose from, Sunil Narine has returned to complete their spin battery, and a slew of Indian talent compliment the big guns.
Despite being laid low by injury to John Hastings and Manish Pandey's illness, the Knight Riders were flying high at second in the points table. And they were mild favourites, just ahead by an arm's length, going into this clash with the Delhi Daredevils. As such, the latter's victory at the Kotla on Saturday night is a bit of an upset. Not the consummate David-Goliath situation, but just a bit.
The thing about the Daredevils at the moment is confidence. Never mind their initial loss, they have come back in fine form, unusual even, given how this is a new team going in a new direction. Everything about them has been a bit of gamble since the start of this season — from getting rid of Gary Kirsten, to the youth first policy at the players' auctions, to installing Zaheer Khan as captain, and to getting Rahul Dravid on the coaching staff. There has been the odd misstep. The money spent on Pawan Negi being one, the casual stroke-making of the young batsmen another, and the odd imbalanced playing XI owing to a lack of experienced batsmen in the squad.
The loss to Gujarat Lions at home didn't dent this confidence. Instead, it has emboldened them — their three wins on the bounce and the manner in which this young side performed in that narrow one-run loss to the Lions — to go out and give everything on the field. Standing behind them, doing all sorts of calculations is a "thinking" think-tank, a vast differentiator from their previous seasons. If earlier it was about cutting down on your mistakes, it is now about flexing their muscles and stretching the limits of their squad.
Bolstered by a run of home games, it can be seen in their team selection as well. Against Mumbai Indians, they paired Amit Mishra with Imran Tahir, playing on the Mumbai middle order's weaknesses against spin. It worked. Against Gujarat, they brought in Shahbaz Nadeem to counter their aggressive opening right-hand batsmen. Never mind their big hitting, in the larger context of the game, that ploy almost worked too.
Against the Knight Riders then, with JP Duminy unavailable, it was no surprise to see Carlos Brathwaite making his way back into the XI. But it was the IPL debut they handed to Sam Billings that really raised eyebrows. Considering Kolkata like to strangle the opposition batting, the Englishman's inclusion was a fair barter to ensure they have a hedge against top-order collapses and to ensure a good finish in the death overs. It was a great punt, and it worked on both accounts. Firstly, when Billings put on 105 runs for the fourth wicket with Karun Nair, who continued to impress with a measyred 68-run knock. And then, when the debutant put on quick runs with Brathwaite, who too brought his A-game to the Kotla, smacking 34 off just 11 balls. The burly West Indian, who then accounted for three wickets with the ball, was deemed man-of-the-match, but it was the Englishman who was the glue that held both performances together.
As such, 187 was never going to be an easy target, especially for a side not used to chasing large totals. The Knight Riders needed both their openers firing on this day. But only one half of that pairing came good. Needless to say though, those extra runs in the death — 60 from the last six — had hassled their bench. Piyush Chawla at number three? With Yusuf Pathan and Surya Kumar Yadav, even Andre Russell, waiting? Pressure induces mistakes, and the Daredevils' faith in their score pushed their opponents to the brink.
They won by 27 runs, and the Daredevils' confidence is soaring high. It shows in the exultation by young Shreyas Iyer after that diving catch to dismiss Yadav. It reflects in the way he is backed by the team management, never mind that he cannot buy a run at the moment despite a superlative Ranji season. Most of all, it can be seen on the points table: Four wins in six matches, eight points in the bag, placed second!
Published Date: May 01, 2016 15:14 PM | Updated Date: May 01, 2016 15:15 PM