Kolkata Knight Riders team mentor David Hussey heaped heavy praise on captain Eoin Morgan, opening batter Venkatesh Iyer and head coach Brendon McCullum after KKR got the better of Delhi Capitals in the second Qualifier and set up a date with Chennai Super Kings in the grand finale of the Indian Premier League 2021.
Kolkata won only two of their seven encounters in the first half but managed to turn their fortunes around in the second leg, thanks to their aggressive approach. They first won five of their last seven league games and then Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Eliminator. On Wednesday (October 13), Kolkata almost messed up a simple run chase in the second Qualifier against Delhi but Rahul Tripathi got them over the line with an all-important six on the penultimate delivery.
One of the biggest reasons why Kolkata have done well in the second half is the introduction of Iyer at the top order. The left-hander has smashed 320 runs in nine games at an average of 40 and even managed a 41-ball 55 against Delhi on a slow Sharjah surface. Meanwhile, Morgan averages less than 12 this season but Hussey believes him and McCullum too have done a terrific job.
"I think the break in the halfway stage of the IPL definitely helped. But I truly believe that Morgan is captaining really well, he's marshalling the troops, he's tactically very clever. The bowling changes have been spot on. I think that's contributed to our success this time around," Hussey said at the post-match press conference.
"Venkatesh Iyer is just a class player at the top. He is tall, a Stephen Fleming clone I believe. He has got a big future in the game.
"It's unheard of what he (McCullum) has actually done here. It's remarkable. We were seventh in the table and not playing great cricket, and he's just turned it around. He has given everybody a fresh lease of life. He's freshened up the place. Everybody's happy, everybody's smiling, and he should take a lot of credit. I know he won't because he's a very humble man, but he should take a lot of credit for what he has been able to accomplish in this part of the IPL."
Iyer has formed a solid opening combination with Shubman Gill and the two have done the majority of the scoring in the second leg. Gill has scored 295 runs at 32.78 in the UAE leg, and Hussey feels it was his authoritative cover drive on the first ball of the chase against Delhi that "soothed the nerves" in the dressing room.
"Everyone knows Gill is going to be a ten-year veteran of Test match cricket, one-day cricket and T20 cricket for India. It's just how he gets there and how quickly he gets there. What he does is he gives the whole batting group a lot of confidence the way he goes out there. Just seeing him strike the first ball to the cover boundary soothed the nerves among the boys in the dressing room and the dugout. And everyone knows he's just such a classy player, intelligent player and I, for one, am just looking forward to seeing him grow as a cricketer and as a person."
Kolkata could have easily defeated Delhi but their middle-order once again failed to make an impact. Chasing 136, Kolkata were 125/3 when Gill was dismissed and then all of a sudden lost four wickets in the space of five runs. Dinesh Karthik, Morgan, Shakib Al Hasan and Sunil Narine were all dismissed for a duck.
"I'm not concerned because they're all classy players. They know how to play. It's just the difficult nature of the pitches that we've been playing on, it makes the middle-order players sort of stand out. They're not getting their strike rates to 200, they have to knuckle down and maybe go at a strike rate of 110 to 120.
"But we've got full confidence in Morgan, Dinesh Karthik and Shakib going into the next game. They've done it countless times for their countries and in the IPL, so we are not concerned. We go to Dubai full of confidence and you just never know what's gonna happen."
The final will take place in Dubai and Kolkata could replace Shakib with Andre Russell if the all-rounder recovers in time from his hamstring injury. "Andre Russell's tracking nicely, I think. He was bowling before the game today. So I think he might be in the mix for the final. I will have to discuss it with the medical staff first, but he has been doing all the practices, training lots before games.
"Fortunately, we have got an unbelievable medical team here. The physios work around the clock, so if anyone's going to get him up, it's going to be the medical staff. Knowing Dre, he will be desperate to play too. Hopefully, he does get up because he's one excitement machine.