Just 83 needed in last 10 overs with nine wickets to spare — in modern-day T20 cricket, this is a bread-and-butter equation for any chasing side. However, it was not the case for Rajasthan Royals, the team which somehow ended up losing the contest from that strong position, that too by a margin of 25 runs on Wednesday night at the Eden Gardens.
It was a combination of some inexplicable batting tactics and skillful death bowling, led by the efforts of 22-year-old uncapped seamer Prasidh Krishna, who in his final 12 balls gave away only 14 runs, which helped the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) live to fight another day in this cricket extravaganza.
Well, to start with, it was not the usual pacey and bouncy Eden track which we saw during this ‘Eliminator’. For the past few days, there has been rain around in Kolkata and the pitch was mostly under cover. Going into the game, it hardly had any sunlight. Naturally, there was some dampness on the wicket at the start of the game and the Royals bowlers used that to their advantage. However, by the time the second innings began, the pitch had eased out. Rajasthan got the best batting conditions in the match and in the first 84 balls of the run-chase, Ajinkya Rahane’s team were in cruise control over the proceedings.
But in the final 36 deliveries, things drastically took a U-turn for the Royals as they couldn’t get 61 runs and allowed KKR to sneak in through the backdoor.
It was Kuldeep Yadav who triggered this turnaround for the home side with the wicket of Rahane in the first ball of the 15th over. In fact, he not only took that crucial breakthrough but also did not allow the new batsman Heinrich Klaasen to get away. Only two runs came from that over, which made the equation much stiffer for Rajasthan.
After struggling with form and confidence for the most part of this eleventh edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), it was in the previous fixture against Rajasthan (15 May) where the left-arm wrist-spinner found his mojo back with figures of 4 for 20. And on Wednesday night, when the Royals got a solid beginning to their pursuit of 170 in order to secure a place in the Qualifier 2, the southpaw once again came up with the rescue act.
Kuldeep might have got only one scalp but his four economical overs, in which the Royals could only score 18, applied the brakes to their rivals’ accelerating scoring rate. The youngster bowled slow and the ball started to grip the surface. At times, even an experienced pro like Rahane, who has batted a lot against Kuldeep in the India nets, failed to read his wrong ones. A few plays and misses planted a doubt in Rahane’s head, which slowed him down further. He and Sanju Samson wanted to play out Kuldeep’s spell and perhaps that was the start of Rajasthan’s downfall.
Along with the left-armer, leggie Piyush Chawla too bowled beautifully and earned two crucial breakthroughs (Rahul Tripathi and a set Samson) at important junctures of the match. His 2 for 24 kept KKR in the hunt. Especially, in the 17th over when Samson holed out off Chawla, the home team had taken a giant step towards Qualifier 2.
Now, let’s come to Krishna. How good was he in his last two overs?
Well, following two relatively expensive overs up-front, when Karthik asked Krishna to bowl the 18th over, a lot of people, including me, thought, it was a miscalculation on the part of the skipper. The Royals needed 43 in the last three and at that stage, both Krishna and Andre Russell had two overs left each. I am pretty sure, most of the captains would have gone for Russell’s experience in the 18th and 20th over. But Karthik opted for the Karnataka youngster and he did not let his skipper down.
Krishna started the 18th over with a well-disguised slower one to Klaasen, who couldn’t connect with an attempted heave over cover. In the following two balls, the South African could only score three runs and most importantly, lost the strike. The next two balls were dots as Stuart Binny had absolutely no idea of how to make contact with the ball. The last one was a dipping slower ball, which Binny sliced straight to the hands of Chris Lynn, who was placed at square leg. Just three runs came from that over and that was the game for KKR.
With 40 needed off the final two overs, Russell alongside Krishna finished the formalities in style.
It turned out to be an inspirational comeback for KKR in the end overs to clutch victory from the jaws of defeat. Performances like these lift the morale of the entire dressing room. And they are peaking at the right time. So, Sunrisers Hyderabad, beware of the Knights.