It seemed like an aberration that one of cricket’s most famous amphitheatres had to wait for 11 seasons to hold eliminators of the Indian Premier League (IPL). More so because in that time it held two IPL finals. That will be righted this week when in Wednesday’s eliminator, Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) take on Rajasthan Royals (RR).
It fits that KKR will feature in the first of those ties because this is not a home match for the men in purple. They are the only team that will play at home as IPL11 hits the homestretch. And given the kind of atmosphere the Eden has created this term, and in the past, it seems appropriate that KKR are playing the eliminator at home. On Wednesday night, the Eden will be heaving and throbbing with energy, creating the kind of buzz it is famous for. And given that RR doesn’t have a Kohli or a Dhoni, the support is likely to be all for the home team.
Stephen Fleming, the CSK coach and former New Zealand captain, always says that there is more than one way to do the same thing. So, it is with KKR and RR. Their approach to team building is completely different but both have made it to the business end of the competition. By investing in the Caribbean Premier League and the T20 competition in South Africa, the Knights have tried to take their brand beyond India. Suspended from two editions of the competition, RR have not yet shown any inclination to do likewise.
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KKR have shown continuity in their coaching staff which decided to have only 19 players this term. Shane Warne, the RR mentor, on the other hand was a late entrant and is known to have said that a coach is something that gets a team to the stadium.
Ever since Warne took this Moneyball team to victory in the first IPL, Royals have struck to avoiding stars and depending on a collective effort. They made a player out of Swapnil Asnodkar, stars out of Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja and revived Shane Watson’s international career. KKR on the other hand pitched for Ricky Ponting, Shoaib Akhtar, Salman Butt, Umer Gul, Ishant Sharma, Chrish Gayle and Brendon McCullum and David Hussey. And in Sourav Ganguly, they had a captain who knew a thing or two about winning. But it was Rajasthan Royals who beat KKR home and away in the first edition.
Even when KKR’s team dynamics changed under Gautam Gambhir, RR proved quite a thorn as the double in 2014 proved; one which included RR winning a match in the Super Over. It was the same result in 2009 when the teams were tied after 40 overs of cricket. This year, KKR have beaten RR twice in the league phase. They now need a hattrick to stay alive in IPL11.