Kolkata Knight Riders rebounded from a tough loss at home against the Mumbai Indians with an easy eight-wicket win over a surprisingly punch-less Sunrisers Hyderabad on Saturday. It was an important win for KKR because this was the first of six games away from home and they needed to make a statement. Here are three things we took away from the match:
Gautam Gambhir's form bodes well for KKR’s title chances
Gambhir's best season came in 2012. He made 590 runs that year at an average of 39.33 and a strike-rate of 143.55. Kolkata won their first title that year. Since then though, the runs have slowed. There were 406 of them in 2013, 335 in 2014 and 327 last season. Gambhir's average has dropped with it, as has his strike-rate.
This season, in just three games, Gambhir has already amassed 192 runs, more than half his 2015 total. Since he has been out only once, his average is a startling 192 (though that will come down soon enough).
Against SRH, he bossed the chase with an unbeaten 90, recovering from a slow start (13 off 17 balls) to finish with a strike-rate of 150. He is in such good nick that he was able to take a Mustafizur Rahman off-cutter — the one that typically bamboozles batsman — and send it soaring down the ground with a straight bat, over David Warner's head for a six. Rahman had figures of 1 for 15 from his first three overs. He ended up with 1 for 29 by the time Gambhir was through with him.
In an article for ESPNcricinfo, Aakash Chopra wrote, "Gambhir has opened up his stance, from toes to shoulders." This was possibly to keep his front foot from going too far across. While the change comes with limitations — it is harder to play down the ground — so far it seems to be doing the trick.
Gambhir and Robin Uthappa were already a formidable opening combination, possibly the best in the league. Should Gambhir keep this up, they would have become that much more lethal.
Sunil Narine will need some time to settle into his new action
Narine made his IPL season debut with this game. It was his first outing after having his remodelled action cleared, and two things were immediately clear: He is slower through the air, and there are fewer revs on the ball than before, which means it is not going to turn as much.
Both are a natural result of not being able to use his elbow in the process of delivery. As Lakshman Sivaramakrishnan pointed out on commentary, Narine will have to learn to rotate his body more in order to put revs on the ball, and it will take time for him to settle into his new action.
Narine admitted as much between innings, when he said, "It is a bit difficult (getting used to the reworked action)."
Gambhir gave him his full quota of four overs, of which he conceded 26 runs without taking a wicket. The batsmen played him with customary circumspection — they would not have known what to expect either — but Narine appeared to beat the bat less often than in the past. That said, there wasn't much turn for the spinners at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium and a better indication of Narine's current effectiveness, or lack therefore, should come when KKR return to the Eden Gardens and he gets to bowl in friendlier conditions.
Shakib Al Hasan gives KKR much better balance
This was an unusual game for Kolkata in that the seamers took six of the seven SRH wickets to fall, with the other being a run-out, which is to say the spinners took none. But despite this lack of bite from the slow bowlers, playing Shakib as a spinning all-rounder gives the team a more complete look.
With Piyush Chawla getting tonked for 13 runs from his solitary over, having Shakib in the side allowed Gambhir to still get eight overs from his spinners while the three seamers, who were taking the wickets, all bowled their full four overs.
Had Colin Munro played instead of Shakib, the bowling might have been too one-dimensional. Instead, KKR could play a leg-spinner, an off-spinner, and a left-arm orthodox spinner, giving them variety and options.
Shakib can also bat in the top four, so there is no cost to the batting order. KKR should make sure he is in the side whenever possible.