Only two nights ago, the Rajasthan Royals (RR) bowlers were hammered by Devdutt Padikkal and Virat Kohli for 181 runs in 16.3 overs. To turn up next and restrict the might of Andre Russell & Co to just 133, at the same ground, is some comeback.
This is a batsman’s game, of course, and this format, even more so. Which is why Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR) Powerplay crawl to 25/1 came under scrutiny. Head coach Brendon McCullum admitted they lacked intent upfront. Whether Shubman Gill, for all his talent and temperament, should be opening, or even playing, in this format, is a question that probably needs to be asked again.
But as the cliché goes, you are also only as good as the opposition lets you be. And right from the first ball last night, the RR pacers, backed by some incredible catching didn’t let KKR be anything but mediocre. As
KKR mentor David Hussey said later, the RR bowlers just did not allow them to play their game.
They dug some into the pitch early on, and as Chris Morris said after the game, realised that the ball was holding up. It had been pointed out in the pitch report that bowlers would have to use the slower ones on this wicket. The pitch had been used twice earlier, and although it had produced 200-plus totals, it had begun to tire out.
Once RR saw that this was not your typical Wankhede strip, they stuck to what was working. Short of a length, cutters, slower ones, rising awkwardly with the bounce that Wankhede always provides. According to Cricviz, nearly 40 per cent of the deliveries from the RR pacers were slower ones; that is two out of every five balls.
“The slower balls did grip,” Morris said. “As a bowling unit, in the first six, you always bowl a slower ball to see if it is going to grip, and if it does grip, obviously you start going more and more to them. Our execution was a lot better too.”
Morris’ first over to Gill – the fifth of the KKR innings – was a good example. Twice, the South African saw the batsman step down the track, and twice, he dragged the ball short and slow to bowl two dots.
There were also two on-pace short ones, and the pitch still had enough fizz to make them skid on to Gill. Two more dots. The only runs Gill managed in the over were off a full toss.
It was apt that the first three KKR dismissals that weren’t run-outs – Nitish Rana, Sunil Narine and Rahul Tripathi – were to either short balls or slower ones.
Of course, Eoin Morgan getting run out at the non-striker’s end without facing a single ball is a dream dismissal for any side.
Morris against Russell was one of the match-ups to look forward to, the former having dismissed the famed hitter thrice in the IPL. Russell had faced only three balls when Morris came back into the attack.
There followed three wide and full ones that Russell could not do anything with – one was called wide. He did connect one in his range for a straight six but Morris was to have his man for the fourth time, with a full one angled in that did not give Russell enough room to properly get under it.
Here is where RR’s catching comes in. David Miller had to make some ground to his right at long-on and had to slide eventually, all the time keeping his eyes neatly on the ball to pouch Russell. The joyous, jumping blinder that Chetan Sakariya took at extra cover to dismiss Dinesh Karthik two balls later all but sealed KKR’s fate, and Riyan Parag’s sharp take on the deep-midwicket rope limited Pat Cummins to one six.
Their celebrations – cue Sakaraiya running and flapping his arms like a bird after Karthik’s catch — were revealing of just how much RR were enjoying this bowling and fielding performance. Coming as it did right after the thrashing they had taken from Padikkal and Kohli, it would have been immensely satisfying.
While batsmen have their individual battles to wage and demons to overcome, a ten-wicket defeat with 21 balls to spare when defending nearly 180 in a T20 can be hard to recover from collectively for a bowling unit. Especially in the gruelling schedule of the IPL, where one game can seem to meld into the next. As Morris said, it would have been easy to have gone down that “dark route.” To their credit, though, RR were able to put the darkness where it belonged: in the past.
“It is very easy to go down the dark route of ‘oh you are not good enough’ when you get beaten by ten wickets,” Morris said. “The sun came back the next day and we had a discussion and the boys pulled it up… that was some of the most fun I have had on a cricket field in a while, especially the first seven overs, we were having an absolute blast out there. The boys were laughing at our supporters singing silly songs, the guys had a good time.”
Such performances can lift a side often. For now, RR have dragged themselves away from the bottom of the table. As they leave Mumbai, they will hope their spirits remain as high for their Delhi leg.
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