Another facile win on the day for Kolkata Knight Riders, putting it past defending champions Sunrisers Hyderabad by 17 runs. It was the Kolkata franchise's second straight win in the Indian Premier League (IPL) this season, and their third overall. It was the third time that Gautam Gambhir and Co won by a comprehensive margin as the Eden Gardens continued to be a fortress for them. This was KKR's 35th win in the IPL at the haloed venue – the highest for any team at the particular venue – and they also continued to be undefeated at the ground against SRH.
But those are the bare facts and figures. Get down to analysing them, and the first thing that would come across as one of the reasons for KKR's big win was that they held on to their catches for a change. The fielding of the purple brigade had not made anybody proud in the first three matches. Though they compensated for the dropped catches and the runs conceded with inspired bowling and batting against Gujarat Lions and Kings XI Punjab, Kolkata were made to pay against Mumbai Indians, losing a match that they should have won nine times out of 10.
On Saturday at the Eden Gardens, it was an all-round show by Gambhir's boys. They looked to have been a bit underpar with their score of 172, especially considering the fact that you tend to get bigger totals at this ground now with the pitch having been relaid. It is no longer a low, slow turner at the Eden that used to be a misfit in T20 cricket. But credit has to be given where it is due. It was a commendable effort by the Sunrisers bowlers to restrict Kolkata to the total that they did, Bhuvneshwar Kumar leading from the front, and was ably supported by the Afghan tweaker Rashid Khan, who seems to do no wrong in the tournament, and has made a vocation out of dismissing top opposition batsmen. Brendon McCullum, Suresh Raina, Aaron Finch, Rohit Sharma have all fallen to him, and on Saturday, it was the turn of Gambhir.
The high point of KKR's batting, however, was Robin Uthappa coming back to form with a typically swashbuckling 68 off 39 balls. He was lucky on numerous occasions, with a few umpiring decisions going his way, including a glaring error on the part of the on-field official when Uthappa had just come out to bat and had not even opened his account. SRH also missed a chance to get him run out. Uthappa, as he acknowledged, had the rub of the green going his way and grabbed his chances with both hands, playing an innings studded with five fours and four magnificent hits for six. Given the luck that he was having, it seemed that he would not stop before getting a hundred, but perished in his effort to up the ante.
What was also heartening for KKR was the form of Manish Pandey. He, along with Suryakumar Yadav, is an important part of the KKR middle order, and has been playing his role to a T so far. After a 47-ball unbeaten 81 against Mumbai, he made a fine 46 last evening, though he too benefited from a fielding lapse by the SRH, with wicketkeeeper Naman Ojha missing a regulation stumping.
KKR continued with Sunil Narine opening the batting, which seems to be working for them. These gambles look like masterstrokes when they come off, but ugly when they don't, but the logic behind it has to be appreciated. Narine is a wicket that is deemed as 'sacrificeable' and KKR have given the impression that the West Indian will be used in 'Kamikaze missions' with the bat, trying to shock the opposition with his unrestrained and lusty hitting, while factoring in that he would on occasions fail to do so. In any case, there is not much to lose for the side if he perishes trying, but if he can get a quickfire 30 or 40, it would be gold dust. This is Gambhir's way of making good the loss of Chris Lynn and not a bad ploy, it has to be said.
But once KKR finished about 20 runs short, they had to bowl and field well to defend their score, which they did to the best of their abilities. They got their selection right by getting Chinaman Kuldeep Yadav back in the side in place of the more experienced Piyush Chawla, who for all the experience, didn't exactly set the stage on fire in the previous match against KXIP. Kuldeep has looked a lot more incisive in the matches that he has played and put up a good show on Saturday as well conceding only 23 runs in his four overs – brilliant by T20 standards – and got the priceless wicket of Sunrisers captain and leading batsman David Warner.
Narine excelled with the ball too, as he had done against KXIP, returning figures of 4-0-18-1, proving again that Kuldeep and he should start on most occasions as the two spinners in the side. The addition of Shakib Al Hasan in the starting eleven would make KKR's spin attack the best in the competition, but it may be a bit difficult to make room for Shakib as things stand today. The only way may be an allrounder-for-allrounder swap with Chris Woakes, or Colin de Grandhomme being benched if KKR do decide to go play three frontline spinners.
An example of how good KKR's bowling was on Saturday is the fact that SRH made their way to a reasonable 45/0 after the first six overs, but could manage only 14 runs in the next four, while losing both their openers, as Kuldeep, Narine and Yusuf Pathan exerted the choke hold. That is where SRH lost a great deal of steam. At the halfway stage, they still needed 113 runs, and what started with an asking rate of 8.65 ballooned to over 11 runs per over.
What worked well for KKR was also the fact that they didn't let Moises Henriques and Yuvraj Singh cause much damage, with Woakes getting both those wickets. Trent Boult bowled his heart out, as he has been doing without luck so far, but finally got a wicket on Saturday, that too the crucial wicket of Ben Cutting, and finally someone held on to a catch off his bowling.
The win catapulted KKR to the top of the table and though it is still a very early stage in the competition, Gambhir and Co look the team to beat in every measure. They play Delhi Daredevils at the Ferozeshah Kotla on Monday and that would not be a walk in the park, with Delhi under the crafty Zaheer Khan and the meticulous Rahul Dravid got their second win of the season with a crushing win over KXIP in the second match on Saturday and are starting to look clinical. But KKR are looking strong and would hope they can only find a solution to the Mumbai Indians conundrum and not drop the intensity on the field to see a repeat of 2012 and 2014.