Finally, the out-of-sorts Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) have found light at the end of a long tunnel. Following six back to back defeats, Dinesh Karthik's boys eventually managed to cross the line against Mumbai Indians in a must-win fixture on Sunday night. With these two points, they will now live to fight another day for a spot in the playoffs.
Coming into this final Indian Premier League (IPL) fixture for this season at the Eden Gardens, the odds were heavily against the home team. Firstly, KKR hadn't won against the Mumbai franchise in their previous eight meetings, and add to that, as a team, the hosts were struggling to get their acts together in the IPL 2019.
For the past few weeks, things just hadn't been going right for them, both on and off the field. Their bowlers were struggling, batting was depending heavily on individual brilliance and there were significant differences of opinion inside the dressing room, which was evident from Andre Russell's emotional press conference on Saturday (27 April), when he openly criticised the tactics of his own team management.
Hence, considering the circumstances, the enormity of the task of getting their campaign back on track, seemed huge for the "Men In Purple". And the job became even stiffer when Rohit Sharma won the toss and decided to field as prior to Sunday's fixture, six out of seven KKR losses this season came batting first.
However, under pressure, the team reacted brilliantly. And one needs to credit the positivity in their decision-making for this change in attitude.
Like the last game against Rajasthan Royals (RR), the KKR think-tank once again opened with Chris Lynn and Shubman Gill. Perhaps, now they have realised that the pinch-hitting option of Sunil Narine has been overused and some solidity at the top is what the need of the hour.
The opening pair made its intentions quite clear, right from the first over when Gill went after Barinder Sran, hitting him for a couple of crisp boundaries a six over the deep square leg region. KKR knew, on that Eden Gardens surface, they need something around 210-220 to feel comfortable. And to aim such a score, they needed their top-order to tee off.
The Gill-Lynn pair provided the early momentum for KKR as the duo added 50 runs in the powerplay. Even after the field restrictions were over, there was no sign of slowing down from both the batsmen. They never allowed the Mumbai bowlers any respite as 39 runs were scored between overs six and nine.
Rohit tried all the tricks, but was not being able to tame the KKR openers, who had planned their power-hitting quite precisely. Against Lynn, he tried to bowl his spinners but in contrast to the perceptions, Australian batsman showed no weakness against slow bowling. Of the 17 balls he faced against spin, Lynn got 33 and a bulk of those runs were scored in the non-powerplay overs. At the other end, Gill, with his gift of timing and touch play, used the pace of the pitch quite aptly.
The 96-run opening stand finally ended in the 10th over. And then came the masterstroke on part of the KKR team management. Russel walked in at No 3. With 63 balls left in the innings, it was slightly unfamiliar territory for the Jamaican but in a crunch game like this, the think-tank wanted their premier batsman to bat the most number of deliveries.
And Russell did not disappoint.
Following a cautious start, a couple of sixes against Chahar provided him the necessary boost. Interestingly, when Russell was getting his eyes in, Gill continued to attack, which did not allow the run-rate to slow down. This was another very impressive tactical move on part of the Knight Riders.
Eventually, when Gill got out in the 16th over, KKR were scoring at more than 10 runs per over and Russell had the measure of the wicket as well as the bowling attack. So, the platform was laid for a strong finish. And coming at No 4, Karthik just ensured that. After hitting Jasprit Bumrah for a four and a six in the 17th over he took the back seat and gave most of the strikes to Russell.
The pair added 74 in the final 4.4 overs of the innings and amongst those runs, Russell got 56 off 22. KKR posted 232 - the highest total of this year's IPL.
Even while defending it, Karthik was right on the mark as a captain. He straightway gave the new ball to the newcomer Sandeep Warrier and bowled him out within the first eight overs. Because of his inexperience, the youngster was the most likely bowler to be targeted by the Mumbai power-hitters. Hence, Karthik extracted his quota of four overs as soon as possible. And in a run-chase of 233, Warrier only gave away just 29, which forced the Mumbai batsmen to go after the more experienced bowlers and they perished in the process.
Furthermore, unlike the Rajasthan match, in which Russell did not complete his full quota, this time the use of his four overs was carefully planned. The West Indian was brought into the attack after the field restrictions were over. In his initial spell of two overs, Russell took 2 for 13. Later, he was asked to bowl the 15th over, when Hardik Pandya was going all guns blazing. And at that crucial juncture, he gave away only seven.
Eventually, his four overs went for only 25, which more or less sealed the deal for the Knights. In fact, going into the last 30 balls of the innings, KKR had the game covered as Mumbai Indians needed 93 and against the likes of Harry Gurney, Sunil Narine, and Russell - bowlers who bowled four out of last five overs, it was too much to do for the visitors.