T20 is a format in which you constantly have to be on your toes. A blink and you are swept away. That's what Kolkata Knight Riders experienced on Thursday night. Against Rajasthan Royals at the Eden Gardens, they had the upper hand but then, complacency crept in. And within no time, they found themselves on the haunches with six losses in a row.
Despite the dew at the Eden Gardens, KKR had the game covered thanks to the performance of their spin-brigade. Chasing 176 to win, Rajasthan were 122 for five after the end of the 15th over, requiring 54 more runs in the last 30 balls of the innings and all their established power-hitters were back in the hut.
The KKR dug-out looked relaxed. And from the smiling faces of the support staffs, it was evident that they had seen light at the end of a long tunnel. And when Shreyas Gopal got out in the second ball of the 16th over, the end of KKR five-match losing streak seemed almost inevitable.
Well, at that point there was hardly anyone at the Eden Gardens who would have anticipated a twist in the tale. But as they say, at times reality can be much more melodramatic than a fiction.
A 17-year old Riyan Parag alongside Rajasthan‘s most valuable foreign recruit this season, Jofra Archer shared a 22-ball 44-run stand to turn the tide completely in favour of the visiting team. With no established power-hitter at the crease, the KKR bowlers seemed a bit relaxed and the complacency factor crept in which cost them the match.
Sunil Narine, who in his earlier spells bowled economically and got rid of Ajinkya Rahane and Steven Smith to give KKR a sniff in this crucial fixture, went for 15 in his last over. He bowled a length ball at the start the over and Archer hit him for a straight six. The fourth one was once again a freebie; a delivery down the leg-side and Parag just guided it fine for a boundary. Also, let’s not forget that Narine in his third over dropped an absolute dolly of a return catch, when Parag hadn't even opened his account.
Nevertheless, in the 17th over Archer and Parag provided the much-needed momentum to the Rajasthan’s run-chase. The duo then followed it up with a 13-run 18th over off Prasidh Krishna. Interestingly, being a death bowler, when you are expected to bowl a tight line and length in those final overs, young Krishna was quite wayward in his final spell. When the opposition was looking to get 31 off 18, instead of bowling his variations like slower ones and wide yorkers, Krishna was hitting the pitch hard and trying to intimidate the batsmen with pace and bounce – a completely inexplicable strategy in the contest of this game.
Parag and Archer just used his pace and runs were flowing. The youngster Parag especially, played rising ball quite efficiently and hit Krishna for a four and six in the 18th over. After the end of that over, the equation was fairly simple for Rajasthan – 18 off 12, a very much doable job in this era of T20s. Next over, Andre Russell gave away just nine runs and took the important scalp of Parag, to hold the crowd at the edge of their seats.
At one point the equation for Rajasthan was 53 required off 28 with just four wickets in hand and from there; they needed just nine in the final over. It was quite a dramatic turnaround for the visitors. KKR dropped their guard and the stranglehold was reversed.
Raising many eyebrows Dinesh Karthik once again asked a struggling Krishna to bowl that final over and it took Archer just two deliveries (a four and a 6) to finish the game in style. Krishna ended with figures of 3.2-0-43-1 at an economy rate of 12.90.
It seems like a tactical error on the part of Karthik, because of which Russell ended up not completing his quota and barring Krishna, there was not a genuine option left for the home team to bowl that final over. In an ideal world, Russell should have been given the responsibility of bowling the 18th and 20th over. An inexperienced Krishna bowled 14 balls in his last spell and gave away 31 runs. That’s where KKR lost this game and are now only mathematically alive in the race for a Playoff spot.
Remember, Krishna was dropped from the playing XI in KKR’s previous fixture against Sunrisers Hyderabad because of his lack of consistency in the IPL 2019. However, he was straightway brought back in the side for this game against Rajasthan and not only that, the skipper trusted him to bowl three overs at the death despite him being low on confidence.
This decision defies cricketing logic.