The Kolkata Knight Riders have more baggage than Louis Vuitton. Most of the Final XI are no longer part of their national squads. Skipper Gambhir has a team of amazing has-beens. The very reason for this team is the nostalgia they serve at the post match party. The memory chest overruns with Gambhir on top. Manish Pandey was the first Indian to score an IPL 100. Uthappa hasn't done much since he doffed his imaginary hat against Pakistan in 2007. Yusuf Pathan. Where do you start with Yusuf? You could ask his dad? Or Irfan? Or speak to his chewing gum. They all will have a tale to tell. And if this wasn't enough, there's the blast-from-the-past, Piyush Chawla. If only these guys could play in sepia. But play they will, for Gambhir must prove them wrong every season. The Avengers come to mind. But there is thought to this team, and it challenges Gambhir, Yusuf, Uthappa, Chawla - to start thinking, from has-beens to wannabes to will-bees, to who knows, maybe even a Beatle. Chawla would be Ringo. Gambhir, Lennon. Uthappa, Paul. And Yusuf, George. Surya Kumar Yadav could be the fifth Beatle.
But what will Umesh Yadav be? From being India's go-to bowler, he was either injured or benched, before doing his thing in Australia this World Cup. But those were ODIs; Yadav has played only one T20 international. His IPL numbers aren't that hot either but against his old team, the Daredevils, he was man of the match for his 2/18. A second, third, fourth coming? Gambhir has enough patience to pull him through bad days.
Firangs have their own baggage: Shakib Al Hasan, KKR barely played him, not foreign enough for them? Then when they wanted to, the Bangladesh Cricket Board didn't let him. And just when he started this season, Pakistan came along.
Andre Russell inhabited the DD bench more than Manoj Tiwary, India's. And when Russell did play, he bowled that one over that invariably was his last. Under Gambhir's watchful eye, life has been more play and less bench - just the other day a match winning 66, and before that a naughty 41*. Suddenly everyone's talking a lot less about Andre Russell's hair.
Morne Morkel was dropped by DD for a qualifier/semi-final/eliminator when he was their top bowler. And he's seen some bad days in the IPL; bowls length, almost as readily as Ishant. Gets hammered, like Ishant. But can run through the batting, unlike Ishant. But if you watched him slide and sort-of-field, your heart will bleed for the turf and his limbs in equal measure. So far he's been picking wickets every match.
It took a while for KKR and Gambhir to figure out that Ryan ten Doeschate must play - and pronouncing his name right should have nothing to do with it. Has an ice cool head, can close games in case Russell and Pathan don't, and even bat up the order - has two T20 centuries. That he played for the Netherlands can no longer be held against him.
And then there's Sunil Narine, who doesn't quite fit into this team but won them the tournament, outsourcing it's called. This year though, Narine has had more than his share of baggage - his action was called and he missed the World Cup. Seems largely unaffected by everything but it could be just be that blank look he wears.
After KKR's victory against the Daredevils, Gambhir took backing Yusuf Pathan to a lofty new level - "I have always had a lot of faith in him. Faith and trust is one thing that does not go very quickly. So I always feel he is the game-changer for us and the way he has batted in this tournament till now, I think he is just going to be our biggest game-changer." Going by the last few IPLs, it's tough to tell what the basis for this faith and trust is - but it appears to be paying some dividends now. Gambhir's approach to team selection isn't too dissimilar to Dhoni's - back your boys, then back them some more, and if that isn't paying off, back them some more still.
Yusuf Pathan is to Gambhir as Jadeja is to Dhoni. #DDvsKKR
— Gaurav Sethi (@BoredCricket) April 20, 2015
KKR should make the playoffs. Let's see how far can one man's belief in his jaded army push them?
First published here