Kolkata Knight Riders did just enough to fight another day in IPL 2016. Their 22-run win over Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Eden Gardens on Sunday means they avoid a repeat of last season, where defeat in their final two matches left them one point shy of the top four.
But while the final margin of victory suggests a convincing win, it was an uneven performance from the home side. The openers failed yet again. Robin Uthappa began with some crunching drives through the off-side but threw it away with yet another silly shot. Colin Munro, who replaced Morne Morkel, and Gautam Gambhir followed quickly, both to poorly judged strokes. At the end of eight overs, Kolkata had stumbled to 63 for 3.
In the absence of the injured Andre Russell, there was trouble at the back end of the innings too, with the final four overs yielding just 25 runs. Put those two stretches together, and it adds up to 88 runs from 12 overs. That they managed to post 171 was largely down Yusuf Pathan and Manish Pandey, who blitzed the Sunrisers attack to rack up an 87-run partnership from 49 balls.
Pandey has struggled for runs this season but showed why he is such a valuable member of the team. He began the onslaught by targeting legspinner Karn Sharma and swept him for consecutive sixes in the ninth over. And just like that, Kolkata were back up and running. Pandey’s aggression allowed Yusuf to settle and when Karn was brought back to bowl the 14th over, Yusuf took advantage with two huge sixes of his own, the first of which travelled 101 metres and ended up deep in the crowd behind long-on.
Even Mustafizur ‘The Fizz’ Rahman came in for some treatment, going for 14 runs in his second over, though there was a lucky outside edge off Yusuf’s bat that sent the ball racing to the third-man boundary. Yusuf once again shepherded the innings to a close, finishing on 52 not out from 34 balls. It was another calm, mature knock from a batsman often characterised as a one-dimensional slogger. This year he has shown improved shot selction and firmer footwork, rarely getting into the wrong position to play a shot he chose. He ends the group stage with an average of 89.75 and a strike-rate of 148.34, and without him, Kolkata would have undoubtedly been on the outside looking in.
Once Pandey was out in the 16th over, KKR lost momentum again. Shakib al-Hasan couldn’t find the middle of the bat and Jason Holder’s stay lasted three balls. Even Yusuf was kept quiet, managing just six runs in his final eight deliveries. Their final score was still a good one on a turning wicket but it could have been so much better.
The spinners, particularly Sunil Narine and Kuldeep Yadav, finished the job on a turning Eden Gardens pitch, though Kuldeep was a surprise selection in place of Piyush Chawla. There aren’t many teams who would drop their leading spinner for a must-win game, but for Knight Riders, the move paid off. The Hyderabad batsmen found him hard to pick and he spun his leg-breaks a long way, often beating batsmen’s expansive drives as a result. Narine was his usual tidy self and a helpful pitch enabled him to pick up 3 for 26, including the big wicket of David Warner, bowled for 18 trying a reverse-sweep.
But the fast bowling has a ragged and unsettled look to it, especially in the absence of the injured Andre Russell. Morne Morkel and Umesh Yadav have been erratic and often leak too many runs, while Ankit Rajpoot, who has played the last four games, is a 22-year-old newbie who had played only two games before joining KKR this year.
They may still be without Russell for the Eliminator at the Feroz Shah Kotla on 25 May, but will have to lift themselves up to produce the kind of complete performances they did early in the season when they won five of their first six games. Otherwise they may find that they lived to fight, but only for one more day.
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