When the IPL came to a halt in May, Kolkata Knight Riders were gripped by Covid, gripped by the fear of losing their wickets, gripped by opponents’ bowlers in the powerplay and gripped by surfaces that didn’t aid their game. Their approach was far from the blueprint Brendon McCullum was trying to imbibe.
Needing to win virtually every game in the second half, they hoped they would be able to invoke the spirit of 2014, where they went on a bull run – going from two wins from seven to winning every single game from there on – to lift the trophy. They haven’t come close to winning the cup since, but four weeks into the UAE leg, they are a step away from the miracle they were trying to draw crumbs of comfort from, after being isolated in their hotel rooms in Ahmedabad in May.
Their opponents, Chennai Super Kings, have been there and done that so many times now that approaching a final doesn’t seem new anymore. The hurt of having not qualified for the playoffs for the first time, in 2020, seems to have been a big turning point in terms of the direction they have taken. From the chop-change of last year to change-only-if-needed mantra, they look as settled and calm as a side can come during a knockout, knowing very well how to put together all the pieces of their jigsaw blindfolded.
Deepak Chahar: new ball. Ruturaj Gaikwad: anchor. Faf du Plessis: enforcer. Robin Uthappa: aggressor. Dwayne Bravo: death bowling. Josh Hazlewood: hard lengths. MS Dhoni? Magic. Of the kind from four days ago, when he got the better of Avesh Khan when it came to a one-on-one battle, under pressure, of the kind he has thrived on for so many years. This being the last game before the mega auction is sure to elicit emotions. The “Dad’s Army” will possibly be playing together for one final time. There won’t be a better way to go out than with the cup.
It’s a game between a side that hasn’t lost a final against one that makes so many that they treat all of them like just another game. It’s a contest between two World Cup-winning captains who have been far from their best with the bat. Dhoni provided glimpses of the old Dhoni earlier in the week. Will an out-of-form Eoin Morgan have the last laugh here?
Dhoni and Morgan: a tale of two underperforming batters as captain
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Shakib Al Hasan, a two-time IPL winner with Knight Riders, will be available for the game. His participation needed some sort of a sign-off from the BCB, given he will have to leave for Oman, where Bangladesh open their T20 World Cup campaign against Scotland less than 48 hours after the IPL final. The only call Knight Riders may have to make is picking between Shakib and Andre Russell, if fit.
For Super Kings, Suresh Raina may continue to sit out after having an indifferent tournament with the bat. Robin Uthappa, who hit a sparkling half-century in the previous game, is expected to retain his place in what could be an unchanged XI.
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Venkatesh Iyer, 2 Shubman Gill, 3 Nitish Rana, 4 Rahul Tripathi, 5 Eoin Morgan (capt), 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Shakib Al Hasan, 8 Sunil Narine, 9 Shivam Mavi, 10 Varun Chakravarthy, 11 Lockie Ferguson
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Ruturaj Gaikwad, 2 Faf du Plessis, 3 Moeen Ali, 4 Robin Uthappa, 5 Ambati Rayudu, 6 Ravindra Jadeja, 7 MS Dhoni (capt, wk), 8 Dwayne Bravo, 9 Shardul Thakur, 10 Deepak Chahar, 11 Josh Hazlewood
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Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo