Well, that was different. And yet still the same.
The Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) playing XI was missing a few familiar faces. The team took the field without Sunil Narine (following the death of his father), and chose to leave Shakib Al-Hasan and Morne Morkel on the bench. Jacques Kallis was sitting in the dugout, but as coach, not player. John Hastings and Colin Munro were the new faces.
The Eden Gardens pitch didn’t look the same either. What has been a low and slow turner in IPLs past had a nice tinge of grass on it and so Kolkata played four seamers, and, gasp, only two spinners (not counting Yusuf Pathan).
The end result though is exactly what we have come to expect from KKR on their home turf as they romped to a nine-wicket win over a Delhi Daredevils side whose ineptitude was too strong for whatever good karma Rahul Dravid might have brought to their dugout.
Having won the toss and decided to bowl, KKR conceded the first over to Delhi Daredevils — Andre Russell coughed up 13 runs — but that was to be the extent of their hospitality. Russell, showing no signs of a hangover after winning the World T20 with West Indies a week ago on this very ground, came back in his second over to pick up two wickets. The first cut short Quinton de Kock's opening assault, the second removed Delhi's sole bright spot in 2015 — Shreyas Iyer — for a three-ball duck.
Russell then added the scalp of Mayank Agarwal in his third over, meaning he had taken out DD's top three before the game was even five overs old. His performance earned him the man-of-the-match award and KKR's best player last season has staked a (very) early claim to that title again this season.
At the other end, Hastings replaced Umesh Yadav after the latter's first over and a Test match broke out. Hastings bowled 11 dot balls out of his first 12 and got rid of Karun Nair in the process, bowling a wicket-maiden to finish the PowerPlay. In a completely new script, the seamers were doing the running for Kolkata.
This is KKR though and you can't keep a KKR spinner down. A miked-up Brad Hogg told the commentary team he thought the pitch would turn and he was spot on. He didn't waste time taking advantage either, bamboozling poor Pawan Negi, who was in a different zip code when Robin Uthappa removed the bails to complete the stumping.
Being the aggressive captain that he is, and knowing Delhi were wobbling on the ropes, Gautam Gambhir promptly brought on leggie Piyush Chawla as well. That gave us the delightful sight of two leg-spinners bowling in tandem with men around the bat. Who said T20 cricket is one-dimensional? Hogg and Chawla tied the Delhi middle and lower order up in knots and combined to take 5 for 40, with the 46-year-old Hogg finishing with 3 for 19 to ease any worries there might have been over Narine's absence.
On this night, however, the fast bowlers would have the final say. Hastings returned to finish off the innings and post figures of 2 for 6 from 2.4 overs. He combined with Russell to take 5 for 30, giving the Knight Riders' fast bowlers the bragging rights over their slow bowling compatriots for a change.
The home side then capped off a good night with a stress-free chase, openers Gambhir and Uthappa both making runs as they cruised home with 35 balls to spare, their second-largest winning margin in terms of balls remaining.
Kolkata will doubtless face tougher opposition than Delhi during the course of the season but this was a complete victory that suggests they have a deeper, more versatile bowling attack than last year. And that's bad news for the rest of the league.
First Published On : Apr 11, 2016 17:00 IST