Intensity. It is hard to think of another word that can better describe Gautam Gambhir. The Kolkata Knight Riders captain is famous for his stern disposition. It is hard to get a smile out of him, on the field at least, and it is his way of harbouring the copious aggression and passion within him and turning them into runs and wickets. On the field, he is always barking orders, a picture of nervous energy, and a bit of that rubs off on the rest of the team. So far, it has won Kolkata Knight Riders two Indian Premier League titles. It is this intensity that eventually got them through what was a tense eliminator against Sunrisers Hyderabad on a rainy, tiring Bangalore evening on Wednesday (May 17). Also Read - Suryakumar Yadav Reveals How Rohit Sharma's Words Helped Him After Australia Snub
That intensity had somewhat waned during the last stages of the league phase, so much that there was a point when it didn’t seem unlikely that Kolkata could miss out on qualification. They lost four of their last five leagues matches, their only victory coming against the wooden-spooners Royal Challengers Bangalore, and it meant they finished the league on the fourth and final playoff spot. Had the rain in Bangalore not relented in the wee hours of the morning, there was a very real possibility that the match would have been washed out and Kolkata would be eliminated on the basis of their league finish. Also Read - IPL 2021: Aakash Chopra Has Interesting Suggestion For MS Dhoni-Led Chennai Super Kings (CSK) Ahead of Mega Auction
That fear was evident in the faces of the Kolkata bunch whenever the cameras panned on them during the three-hour rain delay after Hyderabad were restricted to just 128 for 7, on a slow, sticky surface at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. A washout would have been harsh on them, especially given their spirited display in keeping Hyderabad to a total that David Warner, their captain, later admitted was around 30 runs too short. Kolkata’s intensity and spirit was no more evident than in the mannerisms of Gambhir, who was a dynamite waiting to explode. Also see- Mumbai Indians vs Kolkata Knight Riders, Live Score, Qualifier 2 Match, Indian Premier League, 2017 Also Read - IPL 2021 Auction: IPL Auctions in Mind, BCCI Likely to Host Mushtaq Ali T20 Before Ranji Trophy
The explosion very nearly happened when Piyush Chawla had the dangerous David Warner bowled for a 35-ball 37. Chawla’s celebration was enthusiastic enough, a punch in the air with his fists clenched and an almighty roar. But he looked up to see a raging Gambhir charge into him at full speed and grab his head with both hands – not very gently, that too – pull him closer and yell a flurry of words into Chawla’s ears, none of which are likely to be printable. He sealed that flurry with a kiss to Chawla’s forehead. Gambhir seemed livid but he was, apparently, happy.
There was no denying that sluggish pitch at the Chinnaswamy aided the Kolkata bowlers in keeping Hyderabad honest, but Gambhir’s wards did their bit in the field too. It was something Gambhir was particularly proud of. “Yeah, we’ve been discussing that (intensity),” he said during the post-match presentation. “There have been times when we’ve lacked intensity – the intensity to lift the bowlers, to lift everyone in the field. Every run you stop is a run you’ve got to score less. That’s what we discussed. I need to give credit to the entire squad for that, all the XI players in the park were really up for this challenge. They knew that last time Sunrisers had beaten us in the eliminator, and obviously we wanted to try and settle the score. I need to give credit to everyone.”
But that analysis doesn’t tell the whole story. Eventually, when rain relented and a six-over innings was possible, Kolkata needed just 49 runs to win with all ten wickets intact. It was supposed to be a straightforward affair, but perhaps the long wait had muddied their thinking and infused tiredness – Kolkata very nearly made a hash of the chase. There was a change in the opening pair, with Chris Lynn and Robin Uthappa striding out as Gambhir opted to sit back and wait. And when Lynn was caught behind off Bhuvneshwar Kumar, it was Yusuf Pathan who surprisingly walked in. Pathan attempted a single off the first ball he faced, but that was a suicidal run and Bhuvneshwar ran him out promptly.
Eventually Gambhir walked in, only to see Uthappa attempt a big hit and hole out two balls later. The need of the hour was for singles and doubles, but the quick wickets had given Hyderabad all the momentum. Uthappa was careful not to make eye-contact with his captain as he walked back to the dressing room and Gambhir, with the young Ishank Jaggi now for company, decided to take matters into his own hands. He had earlier slashed Bhuvneshwar’s wide delivery through point for four. In the next over off Chris Jordan, his attempted pull rocketed off his top edge and ended up over the fine leg fence. In the next over from the tricky Rashid Khan, the onus was all on keeping the scoreboard ticking. Jaggi provided good company and the two added six crucial runs that over, including two wides.
With 21 more needed with three overs remaining, Gambhir shifted gears. He pounced on Siddarth Kaul’s short deliveries, with a four and a six off consecutive balls. The over yielded 14 runs, and with the equation now seven from the last two overs, he shifted down a gear and guided the chase calmly.
It was a phase in which Gambhir’s intensity was married to the need for calm, and the Kolkata captain did it perfectly. He didn’t dwell on his performance too much though, and praised his bowlers endlessly. “A lot of credit needs to go to the bowlers,” he said. “I thought they set the game for us, and we needed to be a little bit sensible when we were batting – we needed some seven runs per over. But a lot of credit to the bowlers, the way they hung in there, especially given the kind of batting line-up Sunrisers had. They had to dig deep, and they set the game for us.”
Kolkata’s efforts have earned them a shot for the final. It is a do-or-die encounter against Mumbai Indians on Friday at the Chinnaswamy. While Mumbai have got the better of Kolkata in their league encounters, Gambhir’s men have an advantage in that they are heading into the game on the back of a win. They would also have taken mental notes of the pitch and the outfield, giving them that slight edge against their fellow two-time champions.
But most pleasingly for Kolkata, the intensity is back, with Gambhir announcing the need to settle a score: “We don’t have a good record against Mumbai, but hopefully we can settle that tomorrow.”
Mumbai have been warned.