It is the kind of dominant victory that Sunrisers Hyderabad would know they were capable of. The nine-wicket conquest of Kolkata Knight Riders in a Indian Premier League match at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad on Sunday was a statement of purpose by a team caught napping on a couple of occasions earlier in the season.
A repeat of that grim scenario seemed imminent when Kolkata Knight Riders blazed away to a 42-run start in just two and a half overs. But all it needed was for a bowler to keep his calm and think of a riposte to Sunil Narine’s aggression.
Left-arm paceman Khaleel Ahmed had just been hit in different directions by the left-handed opener – a slashed six, a pull and a scoop over cover for successive fours – when he contrived to do the polar opposite of what Narine may have expected. It was neither a bouncer nor a pacy yorker.
It was a slower ball that landed at good length and slipped past a swishing blade to remove the leg stump. No wonder Khaleel cast aside his trademark celebrations at the wicket fall – blowing kisses, if you need reminding – and clenched his left fist to punch the air twice after he bowled the belligerent Narine.
This image will be imprinted in the mind for some time to come.
However, that one wicket was not going to be enough for the Sunrisers to claw back into the game. So, Khaleel tempted Shubman Gill to attempt a flourishing drive through the off-side. The ball was angled across the batsman and ended up being a simple catch to the man at point.
The twin strikes were instrumental in swinging the game Sunrisers Hyderabad’s way. Playing their first afternoon game at home, they were stunned by the assault that Narine launched in Chris Lynn’s company. The two batsmen picked up a boundary each in Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s first over and caned left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem for 18 runs when he came on from the other end.
The mayhem continued when Khaleel replaced Bhuvneshwar, but Kolkata Knight Riders had not reckoned with the left-arm paceman’s crafty, even if measured, response to the attack that Narine unleashed against his bowling. It is such gifts that make him a delightful bowler to watch – and wonder if the selectors had erred in leaving him out of the World Cup squad.
After having conceded 14 runs off his first three deliveries, he finished with figures of three for 30 in his four overs. The wicket of Chris Lynn with his last delivery was the result of a skyed catch that was taken splendidly by skipper Kane Williamson, but Khaleel showed that a thinking fast bowler can make a difference in the span of just a few deliveries.
He lit up the comeback road for Sunrisers Hyderabad with his calm brilliance, allowing his emotions to be channeled in bowling in the right areas and then giving vent to them after seeing the backs of Narine and Shubman Gill. By the time a patchy half-century by Lynn was brought to an end, Khaleel was back to his composed reaction to a dismissal.
Of course, leg-spinner Rashid Khan mesmerised the Kolkata Knight Riders batsmen and Shahbaz Nadeem came back to concede just 12 runs in three overs after being mauled for 18 in his opening over. The two spinners did really well to tie the batsmen down in the middle-overs while the other fast-medium bowlers, Bhuvneshwar and Sandeep Sharma also picked up wickets.
It is in covering up for one another that Sunrisers Hyderabad’s varied bowling attack excites fans, critics and connoisseurs. Each bowler pulls his weight and helps his side challenge the rival batsmen much of the time. With men like Siddharth Kaul, Mohammad Nabi and Shakib Al Hasan on the bench, the team will not have to worry overmuch about their attack.
On Sunday evening, David Warner and Jonny Bairstow batted capably to take the pressure off the Sunrisers Hyderabad suspect middle-order with a rollicking 131-run partnership in just over 12 overs. It became easy for the home side to collect their fifth win in nine games and stay on their upward journey in the league table.
Kolkata Knight Riders captain Dinesh Karthik’s belief that 159 for eight was par score quickly came undone. In the kind of form that the opening combine showed, the visiting side could ill-afford to drop even half a chance. But KC Cariappa contrived to drop a sitter on the cover fence in the second over and let his team wonder what would have been had he latched on to the ball.
The nine sixes and 10 fours that Warner and Bairstow hit between them brought the Hyderabad fans to their feet but the truth is that the Kolkata Knight Riders bowlers did not have anyone to think up of laying a crafty trap for either batsman like Khaleel did in the time between his walking up to the top of his run-up for his fourth delivery of the day.
He had sown the seeds of belief that took Sunrisers Hyderabad to the kind of victory that will instill immense confidence in the team. More than anything else, it is the kind of victory that will set them up for four key away games in Chennai and Jaipur, Mumbai and Bengaluru, not to speak of the home encounter with Kings XI Punjab on 29 April.