You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

KKR won, but Kings XI were the stars of IPL

LiveMint logoLiveMint 02-06-2014 Sandipan Deb

From tonight, a strange disorientation will set in among millions of Indians. They will not know what to do and how to occupy themselves between evening and bedtime. Some will wander around dark streets aimlessly, looking for what they know not; others may hit the bottle. Spouses may start bickering bitterly over inconsequential matters, but children and pets will again be fed on time, and the international conference call will return to its usual 9pm slot.

IPL 2014 is over, and we will all go back to doing whatever we were doing in the evenings before it began. The Hindi film industry will heave a big sigh of relief and start lining up the big-budget films it had been sitting on for the last 45 days, for release.

The Kolkata Knight Riders won a truly exciting final, made all the more intriguing because the supposed big guns on both sides did not fire. Virender Sehwag, Glenn Maxwell and George Bailey failed for the Kings XI Punjab (and David Miller got only one delivery to face, the last one of the innings), while Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir and Shakib al Hasan were out cheaply for KKR. The heroes for Kings XI were Wriddhiman Saha, Manan Vohra and Akshar Patel, and for KKR, Manish Pandey, Yusuf Pathan and Piyush Chawla (as batsman, not bowler). It was the sort of match which you wish no one side need have won, but that’s not possibly, is it? Post-match, KKR co-owner Shah Rukh Khan (What’s with the man’s hair? Really!) expressed the same sentiment, and even went a step further by appearing for the interview wearing a Kings XI jersey.

Yes, KKR won, but for me, the stars of IPL 2014 were Kings XI Punjab. Their team selection had been brilliant. Coach Sanjay Bangar (an authentic Indian coach, as opposed all the heavyweight foreign names that most other teams had hired) kept just two players from last year—David Miller and Manan Vohra—and created a whole new team. Delhi Daredevils tried the same—it did not retain any player at all from last year, but failed miserably. The quality of thought that went into choosing the players made all the difference.

To lead the team, Bangar brought in George Bailey. Bailey proved to be the shrewdest and most cool-headed captain of IPL 2014, and was able to forge a palpably positive team spirit and happy camaraderie that was unique and wonderful to watch. (Bangar said in a TV interview that to break the ice in the first few days, Bailey instituted a system that everyone had to relate at least one joke every day).

Glen Maxwell, while earning a million dollars, had mysteriously languished in Delhi Daredevils and Mumbai Indians, hardly given a chance to prove himself. Wriddhiman Saha had been in Chennai Super Kings, where, for obvious reasons, he could not keep wickets, and did not get much of a chance to bat either. Saha is arguably the best wicketkeeper in India right now, and Kings XI also unlocked his value as a game-changing batsman.

Bangar reposed faith in Virender Sehwag, who most of us thought was over the hill, and that too paid off. Simultaneously, he picked the unknown Akshar Patel, who gave away only 21 runs in his four overs in the final, and ended a highly successful IPL journey with the Pepsi Emerging Player of the Tournament Award.

IPL 2014 has seen some astonishing batting displays—in the last stages of the tournament, from Corey Anderson, Yusuf Pathan, Sehwag and Suresh Raina, but certainly the most entertaining parts of IPL 2014 came from the Maxwell-Miller show. In the league stage, when the two came together, in match after match, they pulverised the opposition’s bowling and committed acts of extraordinary audacity. Maxwell must be the only batsman in the world who is willing to switch-hit the very first delivery he faces, and this he did more than once (He did it once too many in the final and was caught off the first ball; Gambhir had placed the tall Morne Morkel at short third man, just for that shot). Unfortunately, Maxwell was out of form in the last four or five games, but he had already done enough to be the most popular player of the tournament, irrespective of which team you supported.

In fact, when IPL began, I was merely a neutral spectator, not supporting any particular team, but Maxwell, Miller and the always cheerful Bailey turned me into a Kings XI fan.

Also, I confess, the sheer enthusiasm, commitment and energy that co-owner Preity Zinta exuded in the stands in every match, cheering and applauding her team like a teenybopper. I wanted Kings XI to win, I wanted her to win.

This did not happen, but as Bailey said in the post-match interview, they could all go back home with their heads held high. He was the most gracious loser I have seen in this IPL, fulsomely praising Manish Pandey, his team’s nemesis in the final, calling him “ballsy”, and mentioning that every time a wicket fell, Pandey hit the next ball for a six.

What Bangar and Bailey achieved in a very short span of time was that they had been able to build a happy, cohesive, confident and fearless team out of a bunch of players, many of whom had never seen or met one another, and some of them coming out of bad experiences in previous IPLs. Players like Maxwell and Saha would sorely have wanted to show the world what they were capable of, Sehwag and Balaji were keen to prove that they could not be written off just yet, and others like Vohra and Patel were plain talented and hungry. The Kings XI we saw in this IPL was a far cry from the team which had pottered around without much conviction in the previous six tournaments.

I will look forward to them in 2015.

But what I am definitely not looking forward to is the horrendous public celebration that Mamata Banerjee will organize in Kolkata for the home team. I am sure she has many admirable qualities, but good taste and sophistication have never been her strong points. Add to that the chronic exhibitionism of Shah Rukh Khan (Yes, what is with the man’s hair?) and I am already cringing in fearful anticipation.

More From LiveMint

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon