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KXIP have team to win 2020 IPL, declares SA pacer Hardus Viljoen

Kolkata,  Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) have the wherewithal to win the 2020 IPL title as the team is in good hands of captain KL Rahul, who has “unbelievable leadership qualities”, and coach and legendary spinner Anil Kumble, says South African pacer Hardus Viljoen.

Viljoen also pointed out that KXIP have so far not lost a single IPL game in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), played in the 2014 edition when the first half of the tournament was moved there because of general elections in India.

“Kings XI is the only team that hasn’t lost a game in the UAE as yet. Mentally, that’s a good thing to have but not something to sit on. It’s going to be challenging but I feel we have the team to win the trophy,” Viljoen  in an exclusive interview.

Ahead of the season, India’s premier batsman Rahul was appointed captain of King XI and legendary leg-spinner Anil Kumble the coach for the 2020 IPL, which is set to be played in the UAE from September 19.

“Playing with Rahul last year [I found that] he is a very relaxed character, and always looks to get the best out of players. That’s the most important thing for a team’s success — to see what you can do to get the best out of your players; how to create an environment and trust them,” said Viljoen.

The South African praised Rahul’s captaincy, particularly.

“KL has got unbelievable leadership qualities. I respect him so much as a player. I have only known him since last season and I have got along with him really well. I have had some good chats with him,” said the 31-year old pacer, who has played one Test.

“He is always there to help players. To make them feel comfortable, it doesn’t matter if you are a new guy in the team or older. That’s the most important thing — communication — and I feel that we have a great opportunity this year to win the trophy,” he said, optimistically.

Interestingly, Viljoen calls Kumble “bhai”, and showers praise on the coach.

“From a coaching perspective, the couple of sessions that I have had with Anil bhai have been really amazing. The environment that he and other coaching staff have created for players to take responsibility is amazing. It’s a very family oriented environment,” said the South African.

Kings XI have experienced India pacer Mohammed Shami, and Viljoen said he is looking forward to feeding off one of the best in the business.

“Shami has played all over the world and against the best in the world. He is one of the best fast bowlers in the world. So, his experience is so valuable in the team and to feed off him makes a huge difference,” he said.

Upon arrival in the UAE, all players went into six-day quarantine and after returning three negative tests last week, they were allowed to enter the tournament’s bio-bubble and start training.

“For guys, being in the room for six days in isolation…it gave us a good opportunity to realise how grateful we are to have the ability to move around outside. Just appreciate the everyday things in life that we used to appreciate. But it was a good thing in a way for everybody to settle down. Guys could still work out in their rooms and balconies,” said Viljoen.

“After six days, it felt like freedom. It was good to see each other and communicate without any restrictions was really nice.”

On the team’s first practice session, Viljoen said: “The first practice out was really nice to see everyone. Nobody saw each other for six days. It was great to catch up. It has been a family environment created with our coaches and coaching staff. It just makes it so much more comfortable for everyone.”

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