Five years on... Knights vindicate King Khan's faith
Bikash Mohapatra salutes Shah Rukh Khan and Kolkata Knight Riders on their triumph in the fifth edition of the IPL
It was a fresh start for Kolkata Knight Riders ahead of the fifth edition of the Indian Premier League.
Well, literally. This February, the high-profile franchise launched a new marketing campaign titled 'New Dawn, New Knights' along with a new logo.
'KKR inshallah will win IPL this year,' declared Shah Rukh Khan, a statement that seemed grandiloquent too many at the time.
Little was the owner aware that the new campaign would indeed mark a new dawn for his side.
KKR's comprehensive five-wicket win over defending champions Chennai Super Kings at the Chidambaram stadium on Sunday meant the flamboyant Bollywood star had finally tasted success, five years after he made the high-profile acquisition.
The triumph marked the end of years of disappointment, justified the millions spent by the franchise and ensured all the hype surrounding the team had finally translated into a performance.
More importantly, it vindicated the owner's faith in his team, justified the decisions (some of them controversial) that he made and fulfilled a long-cherished dream.
Photograph courtesy: Iqbal Abdullah on Twitter (@iqqiabdullah)
Image: Shah Rukh Khan, Iqbal Abdullah and L Balaji with the IPL trophy
KKR's performance belied all belief
Shah Rukh could finally afford to be his pompous self even if he was all humility after the final.
To be fair to SRK, he had always done all he could for his team, probably more.
From making big signings from time to time to getting the best backroom staff, from getting the best sponsors to embarking on the best marketing drive, from ensuring the best support during matches to make sure there's always hype surrounding the franchise, King Khan had done all he could since the tournament's inception to make KKR one of the most talked about teams in the competition.
Yet, when it came to performance his team flattered to deceive. Considering the amount of talent at their disposal, KKR's performance belied all belief.
Image: Shah Rukh Khan, Juhi Chawla and Jai Mehta
KKR started as one of the favourites
In the inaugural season, KKR started as one of the favourites, having arguably the strongest team on paper.
With crowd favourite Sourav Ganguly as the captain (and Icon player), John Buchanan as coach, the likes of Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul and Ajantha Mendis taking care of the bowling department and the flamboyant duo of Brendon McCullum and Chris Gayle opening the batting, the team seemed set for the title charge.
When McCullum scored a majestic 158 not out -- it remains the highest individual score in the tournament -- to help his team destroy Royal Challengers Bangalore in the first match of the IPL, KKR seemed destined for bigger things.
A win over Deccan Chargers in the second match raised further hopes. However, it did not take long for the bubble to burst.
The Knight Riders won only four of their remaining 12 matches and finished a disappointing sixth among eight teams.
In the next two seasons, the franchise made the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Image: Shoaib Akhtar
Gambhir in Kolkata colours
The second edition of the tournament, played in South Africa, witnessed one controversy after the other surrounding the franchise.
Coach Buchanan's ludicrous theory of multiple captains meant McCullum replaced Ganguly as the new leader, resulting in widespread (and expected) discontentment. Then there was the 'Fake IPL Player' (Remember him? His identity has been revealed since), an anonymous blogger who discussed dressing room arguments on the web.
Amid all these controversies, the Knight Riders' performance went from bad to worse. They finished bottom of the table in the second edition, losing nine matches on the trot at one stage. They fared a bit better in the third, finishing sixth.
Following three years of disappointment, it was time to make some tough calls. Around the same time there were rumours galore regarding the owner trying to sell the team (they were refuted, of course).
Buchanan had put in his papers and it was Dav Whatmore who took charge. SRK went ahead to revamp his team in the preceding auction, spending millions to acquire the likes of Gautam Gambhir ($2.4 million), Yusuf Pathan ($2.1 million), Jacques Kallis, Brett Lee, Shakib Al Hasan and Ryan ten Doeschate.
No effort was made to retain Ganguly, though, something that created uproar in Kolkata and led to widespread protests, with fans boycotting home matches.
The owner stuck to his ground, naming Gambhir as the new captain.
For once, the decisions seemed to work. The revamped squad did well to remain in the fray throughout, eventually finishing among the top four. Even though KKR came up short against Mumbai Indians in the eliminator, the fourth edition of the tournament had marked a fresh start for the franchise.
Image: Gautam Gambhir
Off to a shaky start
Ahead of the fifth edition, there were three major acquisitions: McCullum was purchased again (for US $900,000), Sunil Narine (for US $700,000) and Marchant de Lange (for US $50,000).
Besides, Trevor Bayliss replaced Whatmore, who went on to take charge of the Pakistan national team as the coach. And Wasim Akram was brought in as the bowling consultant and mentor.
KKR got off to a shaky start, losing both their opening matches, at home to Delhi Daredevils and away to Rajasthan Royals. However, they soon embarked on a nine-match winning streak, ensuring them second place on the league table.
There were controversies of course, the most notable one being the incident that ended in SRK being banned from entering Wankhede stadium for five years.
But on this occasion, KKR's on-the-field performance took centre stage for once, culminating in a memorable maiden triumph.
To his credit, Gambhir led from the front, scoring 580 runs in 17 matches -- including six half-centuries -- to finish second in the race for the Orange Cap, behind Chris Gayle.
More importantly, he and coach Bayliss managed to inculcate in his players team spirit, stressing on the fact that the team is bigger than the individual, as opposed to what was the case when Ganguly captained.
'No individual is bigger than the team. Till I'm there it will always be about Kolkata Knight Riders and not any individual,' Gambhir was often quoted as saying.
Image: Gautam Gambhir
A point to prove
Having been dropped as the vice captain of the national team in favour of a youngster (Virat Kohli), the 31-year-old had a point to prove. He chose to let his performance, and that of his team, speak for itself.
However, in the final analysis it was a triumph for Shah Rukh.
His ownership (and marketing skills) ensured an eternal hype surrounding his franchise. His money ensured the best talent at his disposal. His perseverance meant there were no hasty decisions.
But his team ensured him one of the most memorable moments, one to cherish for a lifetime. The star can now afford to celebrate akin to what he does after winning an award for his performances on screen.
King Khan can finally declare to the world, 'Kolkata Knight Riders are the champions'.
Image: Gautam Gamhir