Venky Mysore, the long-serving CEO of Kolkata Knight Riders, is working with the broadcasters to provide feel of the 'real thing' for their fans back home. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Kolkata: As he steps into his 12th year as CEO of Kolkata Knight Riders, Venky Mysore took a journey with Gulf News to look back at the years gone by and more importantly, at the forthcoming challenges as the extravaganza is all set to start in less than a month from now.

Following are the excerpts of a wide ranging interview:

11 years done and counting. Times flies...

It absolutely does. And what a decade it has been. It has been great to be able to build a KKR family and to try and create a legacy. In doing so, we have been helped by a fan base that is less to none and have met some incredible men and women along the way. I have to say it has been a rewarding experience.

However, your biggest challenge is about to start. Staying in a bubble for three months has never been done before and this one has its own unique set of challenges. How are you looking ahead at the IPL as is it a mix of excitement and caution?

It absolutely is. You rightly said this has not been done before but at the same time, there is always a first and that’s the challenge life offers you. Each one is now excited about the IPL and about the prospect of going back on the field and doing things for the fans. We have chosen Abu Dhabi as our base and are going to use the Ritz Carlton there because we wanted the players to have some space and privacy around them.

Let me also remind you it was the Ritz where we stayed in 2014 and the rest as they say is history. We beat Mumbai by 41 runs and started a campaign, which ended in us winning the tournament. I hope it is the same this time round as well!

The last time the first leg of IPL was held in UAE in 2014, Kolkata Knight Riders went to become the champions. Image Credit: PTI

However, KKR is also about the fans...isn’t it? A packed Eden Gardens singing Korbo Lorbo Jitbo Re with Shahrukh Khan is a real spectacle that is so integral to the IPL. It is very different this year with the tournament behind closed doors but none the less, KKR fans will all be virtually with you.

Yes our journey is incomplete without our fans. They are our strength and I don’t need to tell someone like you that. They make Eden Gardens come alive each time we step out there to play. And yes this year is different but let me tell you something. Many are in for a pleasant surprise with what technology can do.

I have been working very closely with the broadcasters, Star Sports, and I can tell you there are some unique ways of fan connect that have been planned. For example, one plan is to have a LED wall with fans represented there live via technology. So fans can see the players and more importantly, the player too can see the fans real time and make eye-contact with them. When a player walks back to the boundary from his bowling run-up, he can actually see fans wave at him and can wave back.

Imagine what this will mean for both the players and fans. There are many such plans in place and trust me, fans will not feel left out. And I will urge each one of them to support us like they do and during pujas stay at home and watch us play.

Kolkata Knight Riders head to UAE for IPL 13
Kolkata Knight Riders arrived at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, which would be their base for the next three months. Image Credit: Twitter

Coming to the team, do you think all the gaps that you had have been plugged and that the Knights are all set to mount a real challenge. It is now an all round team.

You started the chat with my years in KKR and let me tell you that in all these years, we have had some form of an auction. It could be either a mini auction or a full fledged one but we have had something for sure. And in KKR, we do our best to prepare for an auction to the best of our abilities. We go in with options A, B and C. This is perhaps the only year where we can say we got all our top choice players.

We needed a fast bowler who is also a leader and we got the best in Pat Cummins. We wanted to give Dinesh Karthik some support on the field and we got Eoin Morgan. We have got our wish list and in that sense, we are very confident of what we can achieve this year.

Our head coach Brendon McCullum was very clear from the start that it’s the IPL and we have to have an Indian captain but he also wanted to give ‘DK’ some additional help and that’s what we have done.

How have you engaged with the players during the pandemic? Were you all in touch regularly and did that help?

Yes we were. The academy has become a real help in that regard. We always wanted to ensure that once the tournament is over year on year, we needed some form of communication open with our players. It can’t be that we only meet two months of the year.

Once Abhishek Nayyar was on board and the academy started, that problem was sorted. Players come and work with us in the academy whenever they have a 2-3 day window. We are constantly in touch and things have really worked as a result. Even during the lockdown, we were in touch with the players and now that things have started to open up, we can engage much better.

So there has been no disconnect of any sort and that’s something we are extremely happy and satisfied with. Frankly, it is time now to step out there and do what we do best - play some exciting cricket for our fans and give it our best shot. The viewership will be huge and we are all set to play our part - I can assure you that.

- The author is a sports journalist and scholar based in India