Charred. That was what happened to Kolkata Knight Riders as the young Rising Pune Supergiant opener Rahul Tripathi set the stage on fire at the Eden Gardens. After limping to a below average 155, KKR were royally thrashed by a rampaging Tripathi, who smashed 93 off a mere 52 balls and quickly put his team in a position from where only a miracle could deny them a win.
Yes, the match went to the last over, and credit to the KKR bowlers for stretching the match a bit farther than it should have, but Pune always had the chase under control. What the Tripathi blitz ensured was that Pune could afford some quiet overs and even the fall of a few wickets and yet be in the driver's seat. And that's what happened in the end.
Pune's score read 130/3 after 13 overs. With only 26 runs to get with 42 balls and seven wickets to spare, it looked all but over for KKR. The 13th over of the innings, bowled by Kuldeep Yadav, had gone for 20 runs, with Tripathi carving him for three sixes. The match, one would have thought, would be over in the next couple of overs, or three overs at the most.
But then the Pune innings underwent a bit of a deceleration, as the KKR bowlers desperately fought back. Runs, which had come in torrents so far, were getting difficult to come by. The runs conceded in the next six overs read 1, 3, 5, 7, 2, 3. Moreover, three wickets went down, and big ones at that — Ben Stokes, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Tripathi himself.
From having the equation heavily loaded in their favour, Pune were faced with the prospect of five runs to get off the last six balls. KKR needed a Jasprit Bumrah in such a situation. It was not too long ago that the Mumbai Indians pacer had defended 11 runs in the super over against the likes of Brendon McCullum and Aaron Finch. Bumrah's heroics came even after bowling a no ball, which came with the concomitant free hit, and also a wide. Bumrah is the master of varying his pace and can bowl yorkers at will, both of which had helped him take Mumbai to an improbable win in the super over against Gujarat Lions, but Colin de Grandhomme, who bowled the last over for KKR last night is no Bumrah. The first ball yielded a single and the second one — a short ball — was pulled into the dejected Eden crowd with disdain by Dan Christian, and with that Pune's win was complete.
This was Kolkata's second loss on the trot, and the team which had been on a roll not too long ago, is suddenly looking fallible, with a play-off berth yet to be sealed. Pune, on the other hand, are experiencing a fantastic surge, when it all really matters — during the final stretch of the tournament — and have won six of their last seven matches.
It includes victories over the top two teams in this season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) — Mumbai Indians and now Kolkata Knight Riders — that too in their home grounds. The Wankhede and Eden Gardens have been veritable fortresses for Mumbai and Kolkata respectively, not just this year, but in the IPL overall and the best of the lot have perished trying. The win on Wednesday catapulted Pune to the third place on the points table, and they are behind KKR only in terms of net run rate.
This victory, particularly given the way it was achieved, would put a strong wind in Pune's sails. KKR, on the other hand, must not let themselves get deflated, though it is easier said than done. The Gujarat Lions batsmen, led by Suresh Raina, had given a hint and Sunrisers captain David Warner showed in no uncertain terms what the prescription was, to take the high-flying KKR down. And on Wednesday, Tripathi followed that prescription to its last letter, going on an unrestrained attack on the Kolkata bowlers and from the word go.
As expected, it paid rich dividends. The KKR bowlers, who had blasted out a gung-ho Royal Challengers Bangalore batting line-up comprising the likes of Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers, were reduced to pedestrian levels by a rampant Tripathi, the same way Warner did a few days back.
Kolkata were, without a doubt, hamstrung by the in-form Nathan Coulter-Nile not feeling a hundred percent after getting hit on the helmet by a Dan Christian bouncer. He looked dazed while bowling and the incisiveness that you usually associate with him was not there. He went for 41 runs off his three overs, conceding nearly 14 runs per over. His bowling looked laboured and eventually he had to walk off the ground. However, all said and done, the Kolkata bowlers looked to have run out of ideas in the face of the brutal attack by Tripathi.
Kolkata were also hurt by the absence of the big-hitting wicketkeeper-batsman Robin Uthappa, who has been in prime form this year. Uthappa apparently missed out because of a niggle, and it made sense to rest him, with more important matches coming up. The experiment of using Sunil Narine as a 'pinch-hitter' at the top of the order did not work out again. It may be a stop-gap arrangement till Chris Lynn returns, but one just feels oppositions have started to find a counter to Narine the batsman, much the same way that they found a counter to Narine the mystery bowler.
This was the second match on the trot that the Kolkata batsmen found themselves choked, and their bowlers wilted under sustained attack. Kolkata would hope that having played remarkably well in the tournament so far, they don't goof up at the business end and let a play-off berth slip through their fingers. Moreover, having been among the top two teams for almost all of the tournament so far, they would want to relinquish their place, given the fact that qualifying as No 1 or 2 would give them a second bite at the cherry, if need be, to enter the final.
KKR would fancy beating the beleaguered RCB, even though they would be playing away, but they may just want be a bit wary. RCB would be playing for pride, especially after the ignominy at the Eden Gardens, and could well act as party poopers. Kings XI Punjab would be a tough nut to crack at home and KKR's last game is against Mumbai Indians, whom the Purple Brigade have always found tough to beat.
"We still have to qualify. Till the time you qualify, we need to be positive. It's not do or die as of now but we need to pull up our socks," said Kolkata skipper Gautam Gambhir after the match. Nothing could have summarised better the situation that KKR finds themselves in at the moment.