Dubai: It’s a matter of conjecture if Brendon McCullum’s arrival as the head coach can shape the path for a third title for the Kolkata Knight Riders, but the sense of anticipation among the players and the sworn Knights followers is palpable.
There is almost a sense of romance between the former New Zealand captain, hailed for his filmstar looks and his dashing approach to batting, and the Knights family. No, he didn’t win a single title for them as a captain (that was Gautam Gambhir both in 2012 & 2014) and on the contrary, McCullum’s only season as the leader in 2009 in South Africa was a disastrous one - where they lost nine matches in a row and predictably finished at the bottom of the table.
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What propelled McCullum into the IPL folklore was his blazing innings of 158 not out against Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in 2008 - in the very first match of IPL. It was an eptain xhibition of such brave and carefree batsmanship that it set the tempo in which IPL was set to be played in the coming years and become the richest T20 franchise league in the world.
As someone who literally had a ringside view, the erstwhile team director of KKR still vividly remembers the innings with a sense of awe, ‘‘It was McCullum at his best. He was happy to play the IPL. The third or fourth ball that he faced took the top edge of hit bat and went for a six. He was lucky on occasions, they brought on Cameron White who was wallopped on all sides of the park,’’ remembered Joy Bhattacharjya, who was with the team for seven years till he quit after KKR won their second title in 2014.
KKR, as longtime fans will remember, had a rough ride for the first three seasons - the worse of them coming in South Africa. The growing rift between Sourav Ganguly, captain of first season who had to make way for the New Zealander, and the then coach John Buchanan were too well documented in the media and McCullum had to suffer in silence. Recalling those days, Bhattacharjya told Gulf News: ‘‘The team was not great those days and there were other issues too. However, What I remember about ‘Baz’ (as McCullum is nicknamed) taking the brunt of the criticism in the press conferences after each loss. His philosophy was simple: ‘‘If you have a choice of taking one step forward and one step back, take the step forward. That’s McCullum for you. I am sure this is the streak that we will be in this team - someone brave, will make mistakes but will go forward.’’
The first signs had been encouraging in the clarity of thought that he showed. Addressing his first press conference as the head coach during the IPL auction last year, McCullum laid to rest any form of speculation that Eoin Morgan - who was just snapped up after a bidding war - could be the alternative choice as captain in place of Dinesh Karthik. ‘‘This is the Indian Premier League and Karthik is our captain,’’ he said.
The idea of keeping things simple was evident once again when on coming here after guiding the Trinibago Knight Riders to the Caribbean Premier League title, he indicated that the promising and technically sound Shubman Gill will be his choice as opener if there is some early juice in the wicket. He also indicated that the Karthik-Morgan duo will monitor the workload of Andre Russell, their proven matchwinner.
The homework has been done. It’s now time for execution as KKR have a tough opener against Mumbai Indians on Wednesday.