It was a damp, gloomy evening in Bangalore on Wednesday, with the weather gods venting their ire and threatening to play spoilsport, but in the end, somehow there was play possible for just enough duration in the Indian Premier League (IPL) Eliminator to have a winner and a loser.
Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR) campaign brightened as they got back to winning ways with a bang, disposing of the defending champions from Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH), who sadly, saw the sun set on their IPL this season. There was, as expected, unbounded joy and celebration among the KKR fans who had stayed back deep into the night, as Gautam Gambhir hit the winning runs that carried the Purple Brigade through to the second Qualifier.
It was an evening when Kolkata hardly put a foot wrong, exacting revenge against the side that had knocked them out at the same stage last year, and had precipitated the spectacular nosedive in form that KKR had this year.
The Kolkata franchise was looking in every measure the team to beat in the early part of the tournament this season, winning seven out of their first nine matches, but then suffered a spectacular loss of form, losing four out of the next five.
It all started with a match against the Sunrisers in Hyderabad, when David Warner ripped apart the KKR bowling that had hitherto served the team admirably well, and smashed a 43-ball hundred. It took Gambhir and Co some time to get over that brutal assault, and to add salt to injury, they received some stick from Rahul Tripathi of Rising Pune Supergiant in the next match too. And suddenly KKR, who had been No 1 or 2 on the points table almost throughout the competition, found themselves out of contention for the first two spots on the table, which would have given them two bites at the apple to qualify for the final.
The win against Sunrisers in the Eliminator on Wednesday would, therefore, be sweet revenge for the Kolkata franchise. KKR had beaten SRH seven times out of 11 in all encounters in the IPL before the match last evening, but SRH had won crunch games. What would have made the revenge sweeter for KKR at the soggy Chinnaswamy Stadium last evening is that if their bowlers had been taken apart by Warner earlier, it was their bowlers who won them the do-or-die battle in the Eliminator.
Australian pacer Nathan Coulter-Nile returned to the side with aplomb. He has had a very successful IPL this season and has delivered for his side whenever he has got an opportunity. With him missing a few games after sustaining a blow on the head against Pune at the Eden Gardens earlier this month the KKR bowling lost a fair degree of bite and on Wednesday, he showed exactly why KKR have missed him. He went for a mere 20 runs from his four overs and took the vital wicket of Kane Williamson, who, if the readers would remember, had put the KKR bowling to sword, along with Warner the last time these two sides met, in Hyderabad. Coulter-Nile added two more wickets to take his tally to 14 wickets from seven matches, and was rightly adjudged the Man of the Match.
In fact, the Sunrisers innings never got going. The defending champions limped to 30/1 in the first six (powerplay) overs and could only manage a distinctly lightweight 128/7 in their 20 overs. What dented the Sunrisers to a large extent was losing key wickets at regular intervals. None of their big guns – Warner, Williamson or Yuvraj Singh - found it easy in the middle. Warner, in fact, went at just a bit over a run-a-ball and Williamson even less than that.
Within two balls that Williamson was sent back, Warner was consumed by a Piyush Chawla slider and SRH were in considerable trouble at 75/3 in the 13th over. The run flow was already choked and losing key wickets was an added disadvantage.
A measure of how hard it was for the Sunrisers to accumulate runs is that with five overs left, their score had still not touched a hundred. A lot was riding on how Yuvraj played, but except for a couple of hits to the fence, he disappointed again. Apart from Coulter-Nile, two KKR bowlers – Umesh Yadav and Sunil Narine – went for less than six runs per over. Trent Boult also did a handy job with figures of 4-0-30-1.
Batting at the Chinnaswamy Stadium has not been easy this season and the average score in 12 innings before the match last evening was a touch above 140, though KKR would have fancied themselves to win the contest at the innings break. But then the skies opened up. It was a steady drizzle for some time, which soon got heavier. It stopped for a moment and the covers came off, soon to be put on again as the weather gods refused to relent. But finally, the rain stopped and after a 12.55 am inspection, it was decided that the match would happen.
It would have been a dagger through every KKR heart had the match been called off, because with no reserve day for the Eliminator, SRH would have progressed to the next stage, having finished ahead of KKR in the group stage. That would have put cold water on all the good work the Kolkata boys had done with the ball earlier. The match resumed after the rain break with the overs drastically curtailed. KKR had to score 48 runs from six overs. Not a very stiff ask that, though in such a shortened match, one over is enough to swing fortunes either way.
There was no Narine to open the batting for KKR, which was bit of a surprise as Robin Uthappa came out to open with Chris Lynn.
However, the start of the KKR innings was not ideal. Lynn hammered a six in the first over bowled by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, but was soon dismissed. Yusuf Pathan was sent in next, but he came and went, out for a golden duck. Uthappa was out in the next over too, and KKR were suddenly in a whole lot of trouble at 12/3 in the second over. It was already very late at night and the KKR batsmen looked like wanting to finish the match in two overs and return to their hotel rooms early.
The onus fell upon captain Gambhir to steer the team out of choppy waters and he delivered when it was needed the most, playing a captain’s innings in every measure and putting to rest any hopes the Sunrisers may have had to upset KKR’s apple cart. Gambhir remained not out on 32 off 19 balls.
Could the Sunrisers have put up a better defence if they had the full 20 overs to bowl at KKR and had all of the 128 runs to play with? Perhaps. There is a feeling that when a match is of such a small duration, it tends to become bit of a lottery. But even if it is so, you still have a job to do. And you have to put your best foot forward. Full marks to SRH for coming out all guns blazing in the second innings, but KKR held their nerves in the end, put up a better show overall and hence, earned their victory.
All in all, a fine win for KKR, but the task gets all the more difficult for them now. They are up against Mumbai Indians in the second Qualifier on Friday. Now, Mumbai have been a team which have always tended to give KKR cold feet, with the latter having won only five and lost 15 of all the matches they have had in the IPL. KKR had their moments in both matches they played against Rohit Sharma and Co in the group stage this year, but failed to wrest the initiative when it mattered, going down in close contests on both occasions. Kolkata, though, must put all that behind them and bring their A-game at the Chinnaswamy on Friday, as they did against SRH on Wednesday, and hope that the match is not washed out.
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Updated Date: May 18, 2017 20:02:35 IST