Kolkata: Skipper Rohit Sharma led from the front with a sparkling 84 as an inspired Mumbai Indians cruised to a six-wicket victory over Kolkata Knight Riders to open their account in the ninth season of Indian Premier League in Kolkata on Wednesday.
Chasing a challenging target of 188 in the T20 match, Jos Buttler made the chase look easier, smashing his way to 41 off mere 22 balls and helped Mumbai Indians chase down the target with five balls to spare at the Eden Gardens.
Having stayed till the end, Sharma got his runs off just 54 balls, hitting 10 fours and two sixes in the process.
At a venue where he has scored centuries in the all three formats beside his epic ODI world record 264, Sharma did not put a wrong foot and looked in imperious form since kick-starting with a third ball six against Andre Russell.
Gambhir struggled to contain Sharma as he dissected the field with ease while the likes of Buttler (3x4, 3x6) and Mitchell McClenaghan (20 from eight balls; 3x6) put on useful partnerships.
There was a time when Mumbai Indians were in a spot with 101 required from 59 balls as KKR kept on attacking with their spin strategy.
In a tactical masterstroke, MI's think-tank promoted the left-handed New Zealand allrounder McClenaghan who turned it around with two successive sixes against Chawla and followed that up with another slog over midwicket against rookie Kuldeep Yadav.
The cameo brought the required run-rate down and calmed Sharma's nerves and he also found fine support from Englishman Buttler who hit Russell for two sixes and one four in a 18-run 16th over to inch closer to the target.
After Buttler's departure in the third ball of the penultimate over, Sharma hit Russell for three boundaries in succession to make it one from the last over, a formality Kieron Pollard completed to bring the defending champions' campaign back on track.
With six away games awaiting them, it's a disappointing loss for Kolkata Knight Riders, who surprised by preferring young Indian chinaman Kuldeep Yadav over ace spinner Sunil Narine, who joined the squad yesterday and was rested.
Earlier, half centuries from skipper Gautam Gambhir and Manish Pandey lifted Kolkata Knight Riders to 187 for five.
Gambhir led by example with 64 from 52 balls (4x4, 1x6) and the skipper got fine support from talented youngster Pandey, who scored a rollicking 52 from 29 balls, to get the momentum going with a 100-run partnership from just 60 balls.
At 163 for 2 in 17 overs and Andre Russell in imperious form, KKR looked on course for a 200-plus total, but the Knights went on to lose three wickets including that of the big-hitting Jamaican to lose the plot.
It was around that time Gambhir, who had got two reprieves, on 30 and 55, perished after his top edge was taken by Parthiv Patel and KKR headed downwards with Yusuf Pathan (nine not out from six balls) and Colin Munro (four from five balls) struggling to get the boundaries.
In reply, MI started on a positive note with the opening pair of Sharma and Patel putting on 53 in 5.5 overs.
Sharma never a put a foot wrong at his favourite venue and got off the block with a third-ball six against Russell, flicking it over deep square leg.
Patel reciprocated at the other end with two fours against John Hastings and then Russell in the next over. Such was the urgency that the duo raced to 50 in five overs before Brad Hogg gave the first breakthrough.
Earlier, after Pandey's departure, Russell played a nice cameo of 36 from 17 balls, studded with four sixes and one four.
On a pitch that looked perfect for batting, Mumbai Indians put Kolkata Knight Riders who were off to a watchful start with six runs from two overs, but the opening pair of Gambhir and Robin Uthappa quickly changed gear smashing Tim Southee for 13 runs in the third over.
Mitchell McClenaghan gave the breakthrough in the next over with Uthappa (8) mistiming one to be easily taken by Kieron Pollard.
Gambhir then smashed Southee for successive boundaries in the next over and the youngster Pandey also got into the act by picking up the length easily and displaying some exquisite stroke-making.
Nothing going their way, Gambhir was dropped on 30 by Sharma with the ball going through the skipper's hands in Jagadeesha Suchith's first.
MI's spin duo of Suchith and Harbhajan Singh struggled to get their act together and sloppy fielding aided the home side.
Pandey raced to his half century in 26 balls, while Gambhir was a little slower, getting to the mark in 39 balls before Jasprit Bumrah dropped him on 55 off his own bowling.
Mumbai Indians made three changes to their XI that lost by nine wickets to debutants Pune Supergiants by bringing in Tim Southee, J Suchith and Parthiv Patel in place of Lendl Simmons, R Vinay Kumar and Shreyas Gopal.
Kolkata Knight Riders opted to give Sunil Narine rest after he joined the team last night, preferring to play left-arm spinner Kuldeep Yadav in place of Umesh Yadav.