The top two batsmen in IPL 2016 took down the second best team in the league at the Eden Gardens on Monday night.
Kolkata Knight Riders are a deeper and better balanced team than Royal Challengers Bangalore. However, in Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, RCB have two transcendent players. In a format that lasts just 20 overs, that can prove to be enough.
While bowlers are limited — no more than four overs each — there is no such limitation for their batting counterparts. Nobody is forced to retire after reaching 30 or after facing 30 balls. This imbalance requires teams to have strong bowling attacks complemented by good batting if they want to consistently be successful. KKR do have this, which is why they have won two of the last four IPLs. RCB's bowling has been their weak link this year, which is why they are still a long shot to qualify for the play-offs.
KKR's total of 183 was a team effort; Robin Uthappa and Yusuf Pathan failed, but Manish Pandey, Gautam Gambhir and Andre Russell picked up the slack. Pandey made his first half-century of the season, Gambhir bounced back after a couple of single-digit scores and Russell was his blistering best, smashing 39 off 19 balls. His strike-rate of 205.26 was the highest on either side.
Kolkata's batting depth — Shakib al-Hasan came in at No 7 — enabled them to bounce back every time they suffered a setback with a wicket. KKR must have felt pretty good about their chances of victory at the break. They have often defended much lower totals with ease on their home ground, which favours the spinners. And Knight Riders' strength is their spinners.
Bangalore, however, do not have that luxury. The team's fate depends largely on their top three ie Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and de Villiers. If they get going, they can devastate an opposing team. If they don't, Royal Challengers can fold like a cheap suit. Admittedly, KL Rahul has emerged as a consistent scorer in the middle-order this season, but their bowling has let them down. In this season of the chaser, five of RCB's six losses have come batting first.
At the Eden Gardens though, the top three all got going and there was nowhere the Kolkata bowlers could hide. Each of KKR's six bowlers ended up with an economy rate of above 8.50; half of them had economy rates of 10 or higher. In their last game against Rising Pune Supergiants, Sunil Narine, Shakib and Piyush Chawla combined to take 3 for 52 from 10.4 overs. Against RCB, they produced combined figures of 1 for 104 from 10.1 overs. Genius will have that effect.
Kohli and de Villiers are operating on a different plane this season. Sure, there were a few edges that dashed to third man and short fine leg, one or two of which waved at the stumps as they passed by, but that's part of T20 cricket. The big miss was the dropped catch by Gambhir at point when Kohli was on 32. Shakib bowled it short and wide and Kohli cut straight to Gambhir, who could not get his hands in the right position and bobbled the ball. The look of anger on Gambhir's face as he lay on the turf told you the value of the chance.
Kolkata, second in the table, still control their own destiny when it comes to making the knock-out stage, but their final two games are not pushovers. They face Gujarat Lions, fourth in the table, in Kanpur and then return home for the season finale against table-topping Sunrisers Hyderabad. Last season, KKR lost their final two games to miss out on the top four by a single point. They will have to be on top of their game here to avoid a repeat performance.
Updated Date: May 17, 2016 12:44 PM