After a sensational performance in the inaugural match of the IPL in 2008, Kolkata was to be deemed as one of the most dangerous teams in IPL, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. KKR’s first three years of IPL wasn’t great, especially their horrendous year in 2009 in which they ended up at the bottom and in 2010 they finished 6th.
A ray of light peeped through in 2011 when Gautam Gambhir took over the reins. For the first time, KKR made it through to the playoff stages, even though they lost in the eliminator against MI, it was a year to rejoice. It just didn’t stop there, in 2012, the Gambhir-led side went on to lift their maiden IPL title. Though, Manvinder Bisla took the limelight with an 89 in the finals, Gambhir’s 590 runs in the season and the collective performance of the bowlers stood out.
THE LEAGUE STAGE
Kolkata’s start to the 2012 season wasn’t a great one, they lost their first two encounters to Delhi and Rajasthan respectively. However, they managed to beat them both in the reverse leg. It was against RCB in KKR’s third match that they opened their account, Gambhir’s 64 and Lakshmipathy Balaji’s spell of 4/18 (4) fetched a 42-run victory. Kolkata from there lost only one match out of 9, including one no-result.
With 17 points in 12 matches, KKR had almost made it to the playoff stages, but they had a hiccup when they lost to Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings. The loss against Mumbai ended Kolkata’s 7-match unbeaten run, despite that KKR were sitting pretty in 2nd spot. In the reverse leg against MI, in their penultimate league game, they managed to acquire that one win required to confirm a top 4 spot and with a win their last league match against Pune Warriors, KKR made sure that they would be playing the 1st qualifier.
Kolkata Knight Riders’ bowling unit had been one of the best throughout the leagues stages. In terms of economy rate or average or strike rate, KKR bowlers were on top. Only in four out of their 15 league stage encounters did they concede a score of over 150.
Playing the 1st qualifier has its own advantage, even though a team loses, they have another opportunity to make it to the final. It was a face-off between two Delhi lads in Pune, Gambhir at one end and Virender Sehwag on the other. On a dry pitch in which the ball turned square from the first delivery, Gambhir had no hesitation in opting to bat first. With three spinners in their armoury, KKR had a better chance to exploit the conditions later in the 2nd innings. The spinners needed something to defend and it was necessary for the batsmen to put up a competitive score, which didn’t look like till the 16th over as KKR’s top three were slow to start and never got going. Thanks to a blazing partnership of 56 off 24 balls between Yusuf Pathan and Laxmi Ratan Shukla, KKR were able to post a fighting score of 162 from 106 at the end of the 16th.
In reply, Delhi lost both their explosive openers, Sehwag and David Warner in quick succession, even with early losses, at 83 for 2 at the end of the 10th over, Delhi hadn’t faltered in the first half of the chase. As the game progressed, the pitch was slower and it became more and more difficult to bat on. The KKR spinners had a stranglehold in the 2nd half, on top of it, a strategical error to send Ross Taylor at #7 and Pawan Negi ahead of him might also have affected the result. Therefore by virtue of an 18-run victory, KKR had made it to their maiden IPL final.
KKR the maiden finalists, were up against CSK - a team that had won the title twice in succession and were finalists in four out of the five seasons of IPL. On top of it the match was in Chennai. MS Dhoni won the all-important toss and chose to bat first as the famous Chepauk pitch was expected to slow down as the game moves on. CSK batsmen didn’t disappoint as they were off to a flyer with Murali Vijay and Michael Hussey putting on an opening partnership of 87 and followed it by a 73-run 2nd wicket partnership between Suresh Raina and Michael Hussey. The bowling unit that had a venomous intent throughout the season was nullified by a blitz from Raina. The target set was a daunting one for the KKR batsmen. In the previous four seasons of IPL, no team had chased a target to lift the title.
A target of 191 in any T20 tournament final is always an uphill task, the innings progression had to be similar to what CSK had achieved. With close to 600 runs to his name, Gautam Gambhir had a massive responsibility on his shoulders, but the burden was too much as the skipper was sent packing in the first over. In a rather surprising turn of events, Manvinder Bisla came out to open instead of Brendon McCullum who is considered to be a dasher at the start. However, the move turned out to be a masterstroke with Bisla slaughtering the CSK bowlers. Jacques Kallis played the role of an anchor in the 136-run partnership between him and Bisla for the 2nd wicket. It all seemed to be going KKR’s way until the dismissal of Bisla in the 15th over. Shukla was promoted ahead of Manoj Tiwary, Shakib Al Hasan and Pathan because of his blazing innings in the qualifiers, but that turned out to be a blip.
Pathan, also couldn’t support the cause, but Kallis, on the other end was spicing up the chase. Ben Hilfenhaus’s 19th over enlivened the final when he bagged Kallis off the 5th delivery, before that he had conceded only 4 runs, hence leaving KKR needing 16 off the remaining 7 deliveries. When it all seemed to be going CSK’s way, Hilfenhaus’ waist-high no-ball that gave away three runs which was followed by a four off the free-hit brought KKR back into the game. With 9 runs needed in the last over, two boundaries by Manoj Tiwary fetched KKR their maiden IPL title and they had achieved the unthinkable.
Bisla was awarded the Man of the Match in the final and Sunil Narine was awarded player of the series (Most Valuable Player). A grand reception in Kolkata awaited the players. A rally on an open-top bus that led to Eden Gardens was joined by top actors and musicians, political leaders and the local cricket association, even the then ICC president Jagmohan Dalmiya was part of the celebration.