Captain Gautam Gambhir scored 72 runs and led from the front as the Kolkata Knight Riders cruised to their second victory of the season beating Kings XI Punjab with considerable ease. Last week, his 48-ball 76 laid the ground for the win against the Gujarat Lions in Rajkot. While that innings was somewhat overshadowed by Chris Lynn’s incredible, tonight truly belonged to Gambhir.
In the first home game of the season at the buzzing Eden Gardens, Gambhir appeared in control of a steep run-chase with minimal fuss. Throughout his majestic 49-ball knock, the former Indian opener did not look flustered for a single moment. He relied on his instincts and mapped the course of the innings perfectly, always on top of the asking rate.
It all began with Gambhir winning an important toss and electing to field first. Batting first on a newly-laid pitch which was hard and good for batting, the KXIP openers gave a good account of themselves. Hashim Amla and Manan Vohra set the ball rolling as they stitched together a 53 run partnership in the first five overs (which was helped by some amateur fielding by KKR).
However, Vohra was castled by Piyush Chawla following which the runs clogged up. Wickets fell at regular intervals as the KXIP batsmen failed to convert their start. The dismissal Marcus Stoinis, who endured an uncomfortable stay at the crease, brought out the dangerman Glenn Maxwell to the foray.
The KXIP captain dealt some heavy blows and managed to up the run rate. But KKR managed to claw back yet again through two wickets dismissing both Amla and Maxwell in quick succession. David Miller and local boy Wriddhiman Saha were able to keep up the scoring rate and forged a brilliant partnership of 57 runs.
At one point it looked like KKR would have to chase a target well over 200. However, Umesh Yadav and Chris Woakes ensured that KXIP were restricted to a more gettable 170. Apart from Yadav and Woakes, Sunil Narine too bowled with exceptional skill to keep the run flow in check.
KKR take others by surprise again
It was after the innings break that the surprise of the night was served. Accompanying Gambhir at the top of the order was none other than Narine. Now, those who have followed the KFC Big Bash tournament will know that the West Indian mystery spinner has been called upon several times to play a quickfire knock at the start of the innings and, more often than not, he has delivered.
Today as well, it proved to be the masterstroke from the KKR management. Narine played a crucial innings in the context of the match and set the tone for KKR’s chase. He did his job exceptionally well, scoring 37 runs off just 18 balls.
Gambir, as well, got going right from the start as he hit two consecutive boundaries to Ishant Sharma. In the next over, Sandeep Sharma received a similar treatment as the left-handed opener creamed two boundaries through a packed off-side field. By the end of the fifth over, he had raced to 31 runs off just 16 balls.
In the final over of the powerplay, Narine went all out and, after hitting two sixes and a four managed to find Axar Patel in the deep. He had a glum look as he walked away even as Gambhir gave him a token of appreciation. It was the maximum KKR had ever scored in the opening six overs but the captain knew that the job was only half done.
As Robin Uthappa got going, Gambhir continued to rotate the strike and keep the board ticking. He constantly found the gaps and kept taking the singles and the twos as KKR edged towards a likely victory. A boundary in almost every over ensured that the asking rate was never too high.
KXIP were given a glimmer of hope when Patel managed to get the better of Uthappa. However, Gambhir and the new batsman Manish Pandey kept on rotating the strike. The former completed his fifty, his 28th as captain, off just 34 balls by taking a single. By then, the asking rate was below six and it was an easy stroll to the finish line.
Pandey and Gambhir ensured there were no further hiccups as they guided their team to a comfortable eight-wicket victory. As Pandey sent the ball sailing over long on to secure the win, Gambhir walked up to him and celebrated with a fist bump. The target that had seemed a decent one but appeared to be at least 30-40 runs short.
What stands out is the way Gambhir paced his innings through the chase. Not once did he give an opportunity to the KXIP bowlers, not once did he play the ball in the air. In fact, he did not hit a single over-boundary in his unbeaten 72-run innings. Once again, the Delhi man had shown that his maturity and temperament was second to none.