New mentor, general election and Kolkata's quest for third IPL trophy

Even as past champs Gambhir, Yusuf are back in state, albeit for different goals, KKR are back at where it all began this year, facing SRH in Qualifier 1
Gautam Gambhir (Photo | IPL)
Gautam Gambhir (Photo | IPL)

AHMEDABAD: The last time Kolkata Knight Riders won the IPL trophy in 2014, Gautam Gambhir was their captain and Yusuf Pathan their key batter. A lot has changed since then in the past decade. Both Gambhir and Yusuf retired from all forms of cricket years ago and forayed into politics.

Here also Gambhir took precedence as he remained a member of parliament from 2019 to 2024 before announcing that he will not contest during this general elections while Yusuf is trying his luck as the TMC candidate in 2024 from Baharampur, a Lok Sabha constituency in West Bengal.

After the twin trophies, both parted ways with the Kolkata franchise, plying their trade with other teams. Gambhir even mentored Lucknow Super Giants before returning to Kolkata in 2024 as their mentor. Coincidentally, Yusuf is also back in West Bengal not with the team but as an MP aspirant given his previous connection with the state as KKR player. He also tried to invoke the emotional connection with the state after being announced TMC candidate by saying, "I got immense love from West Bengal while playing for Kolkata Knight Riders and I want to serve them back."

Despite them being the third most successful team in the tournament in the last 16 seasons only behind five-time champions Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings, Kolkata have blown hot and cold since the inception of the league. Apart from their two title winning campaigns, they qualified for playoffs only five times before this season (2011, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2021). Their best finish since the 2014 title came in 2021 when they lost the final to Chennai.

With Gambhir back in the dugout, even though as a mentor, and Yusuf's fate and future with the state sealed after the fourth phase of election on May 13, Shreyas Iyer-led side became the first team to qualify for the playoffs this season.

KKR's Andre Russell, Yusuf Pathan and Gautam Gambhir during the 2016 IPL season (Photo | IPL)
KKR's Andre Russell, Yusuf Pathan and Gautam Gambhir during the 2016 IPL season (Photo | IPL)
Gautam Gambhir (Photo | IPL)
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Nine wins and three losses from 14 matches with the last two games getting washed out meant Kolkata finished as toppers after the league stage for the first time in the tournament's history. A lot of credit for the recent success should go to their openers — Sunil Narine and Phil Salt — as the duo played some fearless cricket to give robust starts to the team.

The latter, however, has left for national duties ahead of the upcoming T20 World Cup in the USA and West Indies and this could be a big blow for the team. They have explosive wicketkeeper-batter from Afghanistan, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, in their ranks to replace Salt. He was even named in the playing XI against Rajasthan Royals on Sunday but heavy downpour meant the match had to be abandoned after KKR opted to bowl. Game time before the playoffs would have done a world of good for Gurbaz but rain robbed him and the team of a great opportunity.

For KKR, the season began with a narrow four-run win over Sunrisers Hyderabad almost two months ago in the Eden Gardens. Both the teams have gone a distance since their first encounter, finishing first and second, respectively. They are up against each other once again with a place in the final at stake this time. Fans would definitely be waiting eagerly to see the contest between the two top sides when they take the field at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Tuesday but it's the players who truly would relish the challenges thrown at them during the contest.

Heinrich Klaasen, who almost took SRH over the line single-handedly against KKR in their last meeting, has already thrown the gauntlet after playing a match-winning knock against Punjab Kings in Hyderabad on Sunday. "I will definitely be supporting KKR tonight. We will definitely be awake and supporting KKR," he told the broadcaster as KKR win will help SRH finish second and he might also get a chance to avenge the loss in the league stage.

But for that to happen, the 2016 champions not only have to outclass their opponents on the field but also outsmart Gambhir, who will be ready with several tricks up his sleeves given the master tactician he is. On his return, Gambhir had vowed that KKR will be in a much better position whenever he will leave the team and it seems the time is ripe for him to make that happen.

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The New Indian Express