Following that low-scoring tournament opener at Chepauk, Eden Gardens produced an absolute run feast on Sunday evening to get the ball rolling in the 2019 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). It was a thriller in which Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) had the upper hand for the most part of game, but in the end, hosts Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) managed to sneak in from the backdoor.
Courtesy, Andre Dwayne Russell.
Arguably, SRH have the most compact bowling attack of the tournament. Traditionally, they prefer defending totals. In fact, prior to this game, they had lost only twice out of 13 occasions while defending 180 or above in the history of IPL. And in the final stages of the game, when KKR needed 53 off 18 to get to their target of 182, it seemed more likely that SRH would defend yet another total successfully.
In hindsight, the home team was nowhere in the game.
In the 16th over of the run-chase, there was a power failure at the ground, which halted play for almost 15 minutes and it hurt KKR's momentum. A set Nitish Rana got out in the very first ball after the break. The hosts still needed 64 off 26. Russell, who by that time had only faced four balls for his three runs, was at the non-striker's end, watching David Warner and company celebrate the wicket. Perhaps, they thought the game was in their bag.
But the Jamaican had other ideas. He was waiting for some pace on the ball and as soon as he got that, it started to disappear in the stands. It did not matter who was bowling - anything in his arc and the fielders had no chance. Knuckle ball, slower ball, yorker, wide-yorker – nothing was spared. It was power-hitting at its peak. And most importantly, it has come against some of the top death bowlers around in T20 cricket.
From nine off seven at the start of the 18th, Russell took Siddarth Kaul to the cleaners and was on 27 off 12 by the end of the over. Next, it was Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who was hit for 21 runs in the 19th over. Russell had moved on to 48 off 18. The hosts needed 13 off the final over, which looked like a mere formality. And Gill proved it by winning the game with two balls to spare.
Nevertheless, it was those 12 deliveries (11 of those were faced by Russell) in which 40 runs were scored, turned the game around in KKR's favour. Four sixes and three fours were hit in that phase and it was a one-man show.
"I cannot describe Russell's batting, even if I wanted to. I'm absolutely lost for words," Rana said in his post-match presser when he was asked to comment on that Russell show. "The way he hit the sixes, and made us win with two balls to spare, I'm speechless.
"We know Russell is capable [to chase a difficult total], and we don't know this from today. We've known Russell's ability for a long time now, and we trust him to win games."
Now, here KKR need to be careful. They should not repeat the mistake that Mumbai Indians did with Kieron Pollard, when he first burst onto the scene in IPL.
As per Rana's comments in the press conference, the team management is so confident in Russell's power-hitting that they expect him to take the team home from any situation. But heroics like these cannot happen on a consistent basis. You can not and should not expect to chase down 53 in the final three overs of the game, irrespective of who are at the crease.
Yes, if someone like Russell stays there, the chances certainly increase, but one cannot guarantee anything. A classic example of this is the 2010 IPL final. Mumbai needed 55 off the final three overs and expected Pollard to finish the game. In fact, they pushed him back in the batting order, just to get the job done in those end overs. Pollard tried his best with a 10-ball 27 but eventually failed.
Hence, the KKR management should not get over-dependent on Russell. They have two power-hitters at the top in Chris Lynn and Sunil Narine. The middle is also looking quite settled. And not to forget skipper Dinesh Karthik, who has been one of top finishers for India in white-ball cricket in past couple of years.
So, there is enough quality and firepower in this batting line-up to be flexible and score runs at a brisk pace throughout the innings. Ultimately, the opposition should not get an idea that if they can get Russell early, this batting line-up can be tamed.
The KKR management must ensure this.