As is often said, catches win matches. Conversely, drops can often lead to losses. The tussle between Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) and Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) at the MCA Stadium offered yet another demonstration on the importance of fielding.
RPS were left to rue a missed opportunity as seamer Jaydev Unadkat dropped a straightforward catch near the boundary line to reprieve the dangerous Robin Uthappa. Riding on his luck, the opener produced a splendid knock and propelled the Knight Riders to a comfortable 7-wicket victory which took them to the top of the points table (on net run-rate).
KKR lose Sunil Narine early
Requiring 183 for victory, the Knight Riders continued with the successful experiment of Sunil Narine at the top of the order. While Gautam Gambhir looked to get himself in before playing extravagant shots, the Trinidadian did what he has often done in this season.
Punishing the loose deliveries without any mercy, the left-hander smashed three boundaries to provide a quick-fire start to the chase. However, the cameo ended when his running between the wickets was put to the test. In search of a quick single, Narine perished due to Shardul Thakur’s fine piece of fielding.
The in-form Uthappa joined his skipper in the middle. With two half-centuries from his last four games, the wicket-keeper batsman was going to be the major threat for Pune’s defence of a competitive total. After a few quiet deliveries, he made his intentions pretty clear by lofting Thakur over the in-field for a sparkling boundary.
Meanwhile, at the other end, Gambhir was gradually growing in confidence. He took a liking to the off-spin of 17-year-old Washington Sundar and appeared to settle into his groove. At the end of the Power Play, KKR were going strong at 45/1.
Unadkat’s costly miss
Once the field restrictions were over, Smith did not hesitate in bringing leg-spinner Imran Tahir into the equation. The first couple of deliveries were tucked away for two singles. Eager to dominate the South African player, Uthappa got ready to unleash a slog sweep but could not connect properly. Fortunately for him, the toe-edge did not jump up.
The decisive moment in the game came in the fourth delivery of the seventh over. Recreating the same shot, Uthappa got down on one knee and sent the ball flying towards the deep midwicket region.
Despite being positioned for such an event, Unadkat was unable to judge the trajectory of the ball and hence did not get himself in an adequate position. Upon attempting the Australian method of reverse-cupping the hands, the seamer let it slip through his fingers. To make matters worse, he fell down on his head and the ball trickled past the boundary rope.
To be fair to him, the ball was swirling under the floodlights. But, at this level, such opportunities cannot be missed. More so when the batsman at the receiving end of the reprieve was someone as consistent as Uthappa.
Uthappa makes RPS pay
Even as the ball was circling in motion, the batsman would have had his heart in his mouth. Buoyed by the second chance, Uthappa responded by plundering a four and two sixes off the first three deliveries of the very next over. The momentum was now firmly entrenched in KKR’s camp.
After greeting Tahir with a nicely-timed six, he rubbed salt into Pune’s wounds by taking a couple of cleverly crafted boundaries. Uthappa soon brought up his half-century by taking a single off Daniel Christian’s medium pace.
Supergiant’s fielding was once again placed under the scanner when Sundar dropped a chance from Gambhir. Even though this was not as simple as the previous catch, another error within a short time span was inexplicable.
Having opened with each other in the previous season, the experienced duo knew their game plan inside out and began to form a decisive partnership. Interspersing the boundaries with a regular dose of ones and twos, Uthappa and Gambhir began to cruise towards the target. Even though both batsmen fell in the vicinity of the finishing line, they had all but delivered a clinical victory for KKR. Meanwhile, for RPS, the first dropped catch proved to be the final nail in the coffin.