Prior to Saturday’s fixture against the Sunrisers Hyderabad, Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR) batting unit was having an erratic season in this eleventh edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Yes, there were flashes of individual brilliance in between, but a certain level of inconsistency was clearly evident in this batting department. Their firepower was not properly utilised and it continued to be a headache for the team management coming into the business end of the tournament.
In that regard, their final league game against Sunrisers has come as a breath of fresh air. It was one of the very few occasions when all the KKR batsmen did their part. Let us not forget that it was a high-pressure run-chase for the Kolkata team against the top-quality Hyderabad bowling, which is considered to be the best bowling side of the tournament.
To begin with, it was a tricky Hyderabad wicket on Saturday night. In fact, both skippers during the toss predicted that the pitch would turn and most interestingly, both wanted to bat first here. Dinesh Karthik even compared it to those turners which Eden used to roll out in the IPL three-four years back.
However, when the game started, we did not see any alarming amount of help for the slow bowlers but the pitch was not an ideal batting surface either. Against the semi-old ball, it was very hard to get going. Sunrisers lost 8 for 80 in their last 10 overs. Despite that, against their bowling attack, 173 was considered as a stiff challenge for the inconsistent KKR batting unit during the innings break.
But what we saw next, was smooth sailing by the visitors, which was certainly beyond the anticipation of many, including me.
All the KKR batsmen had found their own successful methods of pacing the run-chase. To start with, they knew that they need to go hard in the powerplay. Sunil Narine, KKR’s specialist powerplay batsman, took up that responsibility. He attacked from the outset, whereas Chris Lynn, at the other end, was more conservative in his approach.
Interestingly, it was Lynn who hit two boundaries off Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the first over to get things going. In the next over, Narine clubbed Sandeep Sharma for three back-to-back boundaries and a last-ball six. By the time Shakib Al Hasan claimed the prize scalp of the left-hander, the asking rate was well below eight. Narine struck four fours and two sixes during his 10-ball 29 cameo and Kolkata thrashed 60 runs in the first five overs.
The pace was achieved. Now, it was time for some solidity and the second wicket pair provided that for the visitors. At No 3, Robin Uthappa was circumspect initially, but he and Lynn made sure that Rashid Khan, Sunrisers’ prime weapon with the ball, remains wicketless. Meanwhile, Uthappa got a lucky breakthrough when Rashid failed to grasp a skier off his own bowling much to the delight of the KKR dugout.
That missed opportunity proved costly for Sunrisers as soon as Uthappa changed gears and hit those trademark cross-batted lofted shots. Lynn, at the other end, was playing second fiddle to him. The Aussie may not be the best player against slow bowling, but he survived a few close calls and hung around to complete a very important half-century. He consumed 43 balls for his 55.
The Lynn-Uthappa partnership yielded 67 off 57 and ensured that Kolkata reached their primary target of 129 to stay ahead of Rajasthan Royals’ net run rate, without much fuss.
Following the wicket of Lynn, Karthik quite wisely promoted himself ahead of Nitish Rana and did not provide a chance to Sunrisers bowlers to make any sort of comeback in the game.
However, Uthappa once again missed an opportunity to finish the game and was caught off a top-edge for 45. But Karthik, who is by far KKR’s most consistent batsman this season, once again took his team past the victory line without any further drama.
Due to the last over finish, on paper, the match may look a bit closer, but let me assure you, throughout their run-chase, KKR were always in cruise control. There was not a single moment when it seemed that the home team was making a comeback. The perfect pacing of the innings did not allow any scoreboard pressure to creep in. For me, it has been an ideal script for a relatively stiff run-chase in this form of the game.