Earlier in the day, the ninth season of the cash-rich league T20 league received a jolt from the Bombay High Court, which ordered the organisers of the tournament – the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to shift all the scheduled matches on or after April 30 from drought-hit Maharashtra.
The verdict left the BCCI, organisers of possibly world’s greatest Twenty20 league, with no option but to move out 13 matches from the parched state in Western Ghats.
The ruling in Mumbai, however, seemed to have no effect on MI’s result in Kolkata as skipper Rohit Sharma played a captain’s innings to chase down a sizeable total of 187 runs. For his unbeaten knock of 84 runs off 54 balls, the 28-year-old was given the man of the match award.
The absence of Sunil Narine seemed to have hampered KKR’s chances against a batting-heavy side.
The visiting team started on a rollicking note with skipper Rohit Sharma and Parthiv Patel racing to 50 inside first five overs in front of a capacity Eden Gardens stadium. The opening duo reached 50 off 33 balls, but the introduction of ever green Aussie Brad Hogg brought an end to the burgeoning stand.
Patel, who was in place for injured Lendl Simmons, failed to make ground after trying to steal a quick single. It was brilliant fielding from the 45-year-old Hogg, who sprinted, picked-up and released the ball in his return. Robin Uthappa dilodged the bails at the striker’s end.
The fall of Parthiv brought Hardik Pandya in the centre. The young Indian all-rounder, who failed to impress in the opening match against Rising Pune Supergiants, lasted just 10-balls as his ill-timed one-handed lofted shot off a Piyush Chawla delivery in the first ball of the 11th over as caught at long-off by a juggling Manish Pandey.
With asking rate ever steadily climbing over 10, MI promoted hard-hitting Mitchell McClenghan up the order. And the Kiwi soon got on to his business, hitting Chawla for two successive sixes.
Two overs earlier, pinch-hitter McClenaghan departed after making a 8-ball 20 runs to become Kuldeep Yadav’s first wicket of the day.
Meanwhile, skipper Rohit was quietly carrying on his innings from the other end.
MI despite losing one more wicket were on par with KKR after the end of 14th over, at 122 runs.
Then the real push from the defending champions came with Josh Buttler taking over the role of enforcer. The England wicket-keeper batsman first hit a four and a six off the last two balls of 15th over to make it a 17-run over.
Hogg, who previously leaked 11 runs from his two overs, failed to contained the marauding batsmen.
It was followed by another big over, 18 runs coming from it. Buttler hit back-to-back sixes off the fourth and fifth balls, and the third also went for a four.
In between, Buttler and Rohit had completed a 50-run partnership in mere 26 balls.
John Hastings conceded four runs in a tidy 18th over, which left MI needing 18 runs from the last two overs with Rohit and Buttler in supreme touch.
But the very next over, Andre Russell took the wicket of dangerous Buttler off the third over for a possible late drama in Kolkata. Buttler departed after making 41 off 22 balls, which included three fours and three sixes.
Then, Rohit hit three fours thus leaving one run from the last over to win. And Keiron Pollard ran down a Piyush Chawla flipper for a single for their first win.
Batting first, a 100-run second-wicket partnership between skipper Gambhir and Manish Pandey helped KKR to a big total of 187/5.
Kolkata lost their opener Robin Uthappa early in the match, to Mitchell McClenaghan in the fourth over. Then, KKR were precariously placed at 21/1, but the arrival Pandey assured that hosts got a decisive say in the middle overs.
Both went onto make their respective fifties, with Gambhir top-scoring 64 off 52 balls, while Pandey was more proactive notching up 52 runs off 29 balls.
But the real push of the innings came from hard-hitting West Indian Andre Russell. The 27-year-old all-rounder hit four sixes and a four in his 17-ball stay to for a quickfire 36.
Towards, the end dangerous Yusuf Pathan was kept quite, while explosive Kiwi batsman Colin Monro ran himself out, thus limiting the dangers to the fielding side.
For the defending champions, skipper Rohit utilised six bowlers but McClenaghan was the only one who looked impressive. In his four overs’ spell, the Kiwi registered figures of 4-0-25-2. His other was that of Russell, a well directed bouncer which the KKR batsman played on to the stumps.
Indian legend Harbhajan Singh also contributed but the off-break bowler could have done. His figures of 4-0-31-1 told a different story. He, however, was the man to break the Gambhir-Pandey stand, with a simple return-catch off his own bowling.
The same number of runs were conceded by Jagadeesha Suchith, the only other slow bowler used by Rohit today. The young left-arm orthodox bowler was clueless, and found himself against two top-class players in full flow.
But the 22-year was unlucky to not have the wicket of Gambhir, in his only second ball. And it was none other than skipper Rohit, who dropped an easy catch at mid-wicket.
Strange, it may read, but exactly eight overs later, Gambhir was once again dropped off the second ball of 17th over. This time Bumrah managed to spill the skier off his own bowling.
Another Kiwi bowler Tim Southee, who was billed to be one of Mumbai’s main bowlers, failed in his first match of the season. His returned wicket-less and conceded over ten an over, 43 to be precise.
India’s two big hopes Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya also looked spent. Both the bowlers completed their quota overs, but it was Pandya who managed to get a wicket despite leaking more runs.
He took the wicket of Gambhir, thanks to a clean catch behind the wickets by Patel.
In between, on the sidelines of the match, MI coach Ricky Ponting confirmed that the West Indian will be replaced by Martin Guptill. The swashbuckling Kiwi opener was earlier ignored by every IPL franchise during the Players’ auction.
Bumrah conceded 32 runs from his four overs, without success.
Tomorrow, in the sixth match of Gujarat Lions will host fellow new-comers Rising Pune Supergiants at Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium, Rajkot.