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Brendon McCullum: We still believe we are good enough to be in the semi-finals

Head coach Brendon McCullum threw his weight behind Kolkata Knight Riders’ batters after the side lost a close encounter against the Gujarat Titans by eight runs at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai on Saturday (April 23). 

Chasing an under-par 157 on a pitch that assisted short-pitch bowling with cracks opening up, the Knight Riders lost their top four batters with only 31 on the board in 6.1 overs. Rinku Singh, playing his first game of the season, scored 35 and stitched a 45-run partnership with Venkatesh Iyer before Andre Russell’s 25-ball 48 got them closer to the target in the last over. 

“Our batters have been very good so far in the campaign,” McCullum said at the post-match press conference. “We got 210 in our last game [against Rajasthan Royals] and 175 batting first in the other [against Sunrisers Hyderabad]. I think our batters have been predominantly very good, keeping in mind that it’s not necessarily just our top-order, your batting group is top seven or eight batters as a collective. Overall, we have been batting pretty well. 

“From where we were 34 for 4, it was a really good effort to rebuild and explode with Andre Russell at the end. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite enough. It’s kind of a patent we are developing where the teams are attacking us so we can go away and we can work on that and make sure we are a little bit better the next time. The confidence with the batting unit should stay relatively high and if we can get across the line in one of these tight games, it's gonna do wonders for us.”

While Gujarat Titans topped the table, a win for the Knight Riders would have assured them a rise to the fourth spot but after their fourth consecutive loss, they remain on seventh position with six matches left. However, McCullum is hopeful the side can still complete a remarkable turnaround, much like they did in 2021 winning five of their last seven games, to contest for a spot in the playoffs. 

“We still believe we are good enough to be in the semi-finals and be there at the thick end of the competition. We'll just keep working hard and hopefully things will work out.”

One of the major positives for the Knight Riders was their improved death bowling performance. Before Saturday’s game, the side had the worst economy at the death, conceding 13.62 runs per over. But against the Titans, Tim Southee picked 3 for 24 before Russell bagged four wickets in the final over to register the best bowling figures (4 for 5) in the 20th over in the IPL history.

“The way our bowling line-up is set up we have got three outstanding seamers and two world-class spinners so he’s [Russell] our sixth bowling option. He's very much there when we need him and with the last over, he was called upon and did a fantastic job. I thought the way he batted today as well was simply superb. Another eight or nine runs and he probably would have been the man-of-the-match but that's just how the game goes sometimes. 

“The other bowlers did a really good job to restrict the Gujarat Titans to 156. We maybe didn’t start as punchy as we could have done but at the halfway mark, we were pretty happy with what we were chasing.”

The bowling plan was simple for both teams: dig the ball short into the pitch and target the batter’s shoulder with the odd off-cutter doing the trick and McCullum praised the Titans’ bowling line-up to execute the plan better. Mohammad Shami, Yash Dayal and Rashid Khan picked two wickets apiece while Lockie Ferguson and Alzarri bagged one each.

"In the end, bounce can be your friend or foe depending on whether you're able to fight it. We've got to find a way to be able to find it and come out with a couple of technical things to try and use the pace rather than go against it. Granted, though, it was very good bowling, they operated really smartly. We still gave ourselves a chance though we weren't quite able to execute. It's a fine line as well, there's a lot of those kinds of balls which could have easily called one [bouncer] for the over in which case it would have changed how they were able to bowl at us. That's the nature of the game as well and credit to Gujarat."

"Their bowling line-up is very well balanced," he said. "They've got some raw pace, a bit of bounce, and some left-arm variety. It’s a really good pace line-up and you throw in Rashid Khan as well, it’s a pretty good bowling line-up. The way they bowled today, I thought they attacked us the way we expected them to, which was more back of length and around the shoulder region. Unfortunately, we weren't able to counter that. From where we were though, I think we did a good job to get back in the game. It’s unfortunate we lost another tight game but they deserved to win. 

"I think we have shown some fighting characteristics but unfortunately, we ran second in a close contest.”