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End of a 10-year wait - Knight Riders finally herald a new dawn

Last updated on 26 May 2024 | 06:52 PM
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End of a 10-year wait - Knight Riders finally herald a new dawn

History will remember KKR’s Class of 2024 as an all-encompassing unit that breached all levels of entertainment and chutzpah

It felt just right that the winning run came off Venkatesh Iyer’s bat. 

The defining man for KKR in the last four years, Iyer has been what Suresh Raina was to Chennai Super Kings for the longest time. Or if you want a different era, Ambati Rayudu to MI before 2018. Never the showstopper but always ready to do the right thing for the team.

When his inside edge off Shahbaz Ahmed moved past the keeper, he knew that was it. He didn’t have to worry about Pat Cummins’ over-optimized leg-side field that required him to attempt paddle sweep on almost every delivery, nor did he have to think about his place in the fulcrum. He just had stretched his arms wide open. By the time he could complete the run, the entire KKR unit were on top of him. 

This was the culmination of a long wait for the franchise. 10 years to be exact, when Gautam Gambhir’s men won it for the second time to become the joint most successful IPL franchise in the seven-year history of the league then. 

When you see the IPL 2024 victory through that lens, you can easily witness the gargantuan change the league has undergone since then. The tournament has grown from a tournament that raises the sport's entertainment profile to a serious cricket business and a format on its own. The Super Kings and Mumbai Indians have become the flagbearers of the tournament with five titles each, but the tournament has also ridden on the star profile of Shahrukh Khan to become what it is today. 

In 2024, KKR have not just taken the tournament to a new level with a refreshing approach – very anti-KKR establishment vibes if you have followed them closely in the last 10 years – but also won the final in the most comprehensive fashion possible. It was a statement of sorts - from a returning Gambhir, from an out-of-central-contract Shreyas Iyer, from a trolled Mitchell Starc, and a discounted duo of Harshit Rana and Vaibhav Arora. 

For context, just remember it has been probably the most dominating season any team have ever had. En route to winning the IPL - KKR secured:

- Joint-fewest losses in an IPL season (3)

- Best NRR in an IPL season (+1.428)

- Highest batting average in IPL 2024 (35.1)

- Best bowling average in IPL 2024 (21.9)

- Five bowlers taking 15+ wickets 

A massive achievement indeed!

But it was also more than that. It was about T20 cricket’s most devious stereotype - data - and eliminating the paradox of choice. 

Instead of filling the squad like Punjab Kings or Royal Challengers Bengaluru, KKR have always adopted the simpler strategy of a trimmed squad, which would give them the best chance of winning and a more focused approach to their players. Even this season, they employed just 18 players - the least among all franchises and showed why it can be a successful strategy to win the IPL.

That brings the focus back to captain Shreyas Iyer and the management staff led by Gambhir. Despite possessing some of the finest players in the world, KKR’s biggest drawback over the last few years was the lack of direction. This year, under Gambhir's mentorship and Abhishek Nayar's mitigating hours, KKR didn’t deviate from the plan. The direction came from one place, and the execution was done after everyone else had bought into the idea. 

Gambhir has always divided opinions in Indian cricket for his straightforwardness and inability to move on from the past. But this trait has also yielded him massive dividends as a leader. He trusts his men and conversely, they pay it back a thousand times over. The sense of loyalty Gambhir has been able to create was partially the reason why KKR had such a smooth run to the final last night.

“When GG bhai was appointed as the mentor, I had messaged him and said I am very happy he's coming back to KKR, but he said he would be happy if we were on that podium lifting the trophy. Today is that day and I will never forget that message,” Nitish Rana said in the post-match interview.

Even Shreyas Iyer. Leading up to the tournament was one of the worst periods in his cricket career. He wasn’t just dropped from the Indian Test team after a string of poor performances but was also omitted from the Central contacts list for not obliging the BCCI diktat of playing domestic games. He has his back issues re-surfaced again, but by his own admission, no one was agreeing to his issues. 

Being in a situation like that could be mentally draining, but thanks to having the right kinds of people around him, the KKR skipper could hit the silverware for the franchise. That’s a validation of his immense work ethic and mental fortitude.

With the World Cup approaching in less than a week’s time, there wouldn’t be too much time for celebration before the caravan moves on to the USA and West Indies. But history will remember KKR’s Class of 2024 as an all-encompassing unit that breached all levels of entertainment and chutzpah. That will be a stunning legacy.

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