Kolkata Knight Riders captain Gautam Gambhir led the run chase. (IANS)
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KOLKATA: Sunil Narine carried on from where he left off in the fifth edition of the Indian Premier League, as he spun a web around the Delhi Daredevils' batsmen at the Eden Gardens here on Wednesday night as defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders started their campaign in IPL-6 on a winning note. Gautam Gambhir, captain of KKR, then led the run chase of 129 as the hosts eased to a six-wicket win with eight deliveries to spare over their depleted rivals.
The Daredevils batsmen, with the exception of their captain Mahela Jayawardene (68), struggled to come to grips with the slow Eden Gardens track after being put into bat; and Narine (4-13), the Purple Cup Winner in IPL-5, added to their pain as the visitors were bundled out for a sub-par total of 128 in the last delivery of their innings.
The Knight Riders' chase wasn't off to the best start as Irfan Pathan bowled the first maiden over of IPL-6 before Ashish Nehra dismissed Manvinder Bisla in the second over of the hosts' innings. Gambhir, who made a quickfire 29-ball 42, and Jacques Kallis (23), added 47 runs for the second wicket as they took the attack to the Daredevils' bowlers.
Kallis was especially harsh on Nehra, who he hit for three boundaries, while Gambhir was harsh on all the bowlers, and looked confident in the middle as he displayed his range of shots. Gambhir did have some nervy moments though, including a couple of occasions when he almost ran himself out, but the KKR captain looked unruffled for most of his knock and he also kept the scoreboard ticking over as he ran the singles and twos. Shahbaz Nadeem (2-22), who was the pick of the Daredevils' bowlers, and troubled Manoj Tiwary, dismissed Kallis with a long hop that the experienced South African all-rounder failed to take advantage of and was caught by Unmukt Chand at midwicket.
The Daredevils may have thought an improbable win was on the cards when Johan Botha and Nadeem dismissed Gambhir and Tiwary in the space of seven deliveries as KKR slipped to 99 for 4 in the 15th over. Botha trapped Gambhir LBW when the southpaw missed a straight delivery, and then a Nadeem delivery that turned sharply led to a top edge from Tiwary (23), and he was easily caught by Naman Ojha behind the stumps.
Eoin Morgan (14*) and Yusuf Pathan (18*), though ensured there wouldn't be any slip-ups in the run chase, as they steered KKR to victory with their unbroken 30-run partnership for the fifth wicket.
Earlier, Jayawardene came to the middle in only the second delivery of the match and was the only Daredevils' batsman to come to grips with the slow and sluggish Eden Gardens wicket. Brett Lee had given Knight Riders a dream start when he uprooted Chand's off stump with a lethal away cutter in the first delivery of IPL-6. Chand came into the match with consecutive domestic Twenty20 centuries, but was no match for a Lee special that would have been too much for the most experienced of batsmen.
In an indication of things to follow, Jayawardene got himself and the Daredevils off the mark with a boundary in front of square leg off the first ball he faced; with David Warner also hitting a boundary through the covers in the last delivery of the first over.
Jayawardene, who made a 52-ball 68 (eight boundaries and a six), and David Warner consolidated the Daredevils' innings and gave the visitors some hope with their 44-run partnership for the second wicket. The pair not only kept finding the boundaries at regular intervals, but also rotated the strike well as they ran well between the wickets as the scoreboard was kept ticking over. Warner had a poor away Test series against India, but appeared to be regaining his form, and was especially harsh on Kallis, who he hit for three boundaries.
But, the introduction of Narine in the sixth over, was to change the complexion of the match, as the West Indies offbreak bowler, struck with his fifth delivery when he got Warner to edge a catch a Kallis at first slip. This was to be Narine's only over of his first spell, but if the Daredevils' batsmen thought they could take runs off the other Knight Riders' bowlers, they had a nasty surprise awaiting them as L Balaji and Rajat Bhatia took the pace off the deliveries and mixed up their deliveries, with Bhatia especially bowling legcutters almost at will. Such was their effectiveness on the slow Eden track that Balaji (1-20) and Bhatia (2-23) only conceded 43 runs in the eight overs they bowled between themselves.
Jayawardene though showcased his class and experience to the hilt through the course of his knock as he mixed caution with aggression even as he watched a procession of Daredevils' batsmen not showing the required application and trying to hit their way out of trouble, but in vain. The 22-year-old Gujarat batsman Manprit Juneja, who was making his IPL debut, failed to learn from his captain's example at the other end, and was well caught by Laxmi Ratan Shukla off Balaji's bowling in the ninth over with the score on 59. Bhatia then got rid of Ojha and Botha in quick succession as the Daredevils slipped to 88 for 5 in the 14th over.
Narine's re-introduction into the attack in the 16th over destroyed any hopes the Daredevils had of posting a 140-run target, as he dismissed Irfan Pathan, Andre Russell and Nehra to end with dream figures of 4-0-13-4. The dismissal of Russell would be one Narine would get particular pride in as he bamboozled his West Indies team mate during the all-rounder's short stint in the middle. Russell's ordeal finally ended when he lobbed an easy catch to Narine off his own bowling.
At the other end, Jayawardene was harsh on Lee in the 17th and 19th overs as he took 23 runs, including three boundaries and the only six of the Daredevils' innings, off the former Australian pace spearhead. Lee (2-40) did have Jayawardene caught by Narine off the last delivery of the 19th over; and the West Indies offbreak bowler conceded only three runs in the final over of the innings as Daredevils were bundled out for a paltry 128.
The Daredevils, who suffered a double blow before the season started, with the injured pair of Kevin Pietersen and Jesse Ryder both ruled out of IPL-6, were without Virender Sehwag for the IPL-6 opener because of a back spasm. Morne Morkel was another notable absentee for the Daredevils as he is playing domestic cricket back in South Africa. The Knight Riders were without New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum, who is yet to join the franchise, because of a hamstring injury he suffered during the drawn third Test against England in Auckland last week.