There was a minor hiccup towards the end when Kolkata Knight Riders lost four wickets for 41 runs but that aside, their six-wicket win over Kings XI Punjab was another commanding performance with bat and ball.
This is their second straight win on the road. In their previous victory over Sunrisers Hyderabad, it was Gautam Gambhir and Andre Russell that led the way, this time it was Robin Uthappa and Sunil Narine.
Such is the depth of this KKR team that they don’t depend on one or even a couple of players. They have players up and down their line-up who can deliver on any given day.
In a column for The Times of India before the match, Ravi Shastri broke down the KKR squad. “A galaxy of spinners, young lights of West Indies to go with the tall Morne Morkel - pace, spin, swing, seam, regular or chinaman: it’s a course where every recipe is dished out on the table.”
Likewise, the batting. Uthappa and Gambhir are the best opening combination in the league. As Shastri points out, the next five spots in the batting order are fluid, with players sent in depending on match situation. Manish Pandey and Shakib Al Hasan can bat conventionally and can score quickly. Yusuf Pathan and Andre Russell can butcher a bowling attack in minutes. Suryakumar Yadav falls somewhere between the two pairs.
Chasing a relative small target, Uthappa said “it was important for us to get a good start”. They did that and more. Kolkata racked up 65 from the first six overs without losing a wicket, the highest total in the powerplay so far this season. At the heart of it was Uthappa, who raced to 45. He picked up at least one boundary in each over, beginning with the first ball he faced from Sandeep Sharma that was flicked off his pads past fine leg.
That Uthappa was in the mood became emphatically clear in the next over, when Kyle Abbot was creamed past the fielder at point, who didn’t have time to dive before the ball was past him. In Abbot’s next over, the fourth of the innings, Uthappa treated him to an even better shot, lofting him over cover.
Uthappa brought up his 50 from 24 balls, the third fastest this season, and by that time – it was still only the seventh over – KKR were already half-way to their target.
“With Gautam, the understanding, the camaraderie is great. I think the batting chemistry between the two of us is fantastic, so we know that if he is going after the bowling and I give him as much of the strike as possible. If I am hitting the ball well, then he gives me the strike like he did today. If one person gets going, the other just rotates the strike. It’s simple. So you build a partnership in that sense.
“And in T20 cricket, if you build a 50, 60-run partnership, you tend to end up on the winning side and we understand that.”
The other big contribution came from Narine, which must have come as a big relief to him and the team. Gambhir was smart about using him, bringing him on in the seventh over and allowing him three straight overs, so he could get in a rhythm.
The unfamiliarity of his new action is still evident but when Narine beat Murali Vijay in flight with just his third delivery, you felt perhaps things were not going to be that different after all. Showing impressive control and accuracy, Narine responded by picking up the wicket of Wriddhiman Saha in his third over and did not concede a boundary in first spell. Gambhir brought him back in the 15th over and Narine got rid of Glenn Maxwell to finish with figures of 2 for 22. Narine kept Kings XI in check in the middle overs and helped limit a powerful but misfiring batting line-up.
Kolkata Knight Riders now top the table, albeit having played one more game than Gujarat Lions, the only undefeated team in the league. Their batsmen are scoring runs. Their bowlers are taking wickets. These are ominous signs for the rest of the league.