May 24, 2018
Royals bottle: After 15 overs, Rajasthan Royals were 111/2, chasing 170 for victory. Kolkata Knight Riders had been on 114/5 at the same stage. The two-time champions scored 55 runs in the last five overs to take the game away from the opposition. Royals managed only 33 runs between over number 15 and 20 to hand KKR a 25-run victory. Only three fours were hit in 30 legal deliveries at the death. Royals bottled the chase.
Ajinkya Rahane was anchoring his team’s chase, opening the innings. The idea seemed to be building the base before throwing the kitchen sink. Sanju Samson, too, looked to be in very good touch. But Kuldeep Yadav snapped up Rahane in the first ball of the 15th over, which ended a 62-run second wicket partnership. The onus shifted to young Samson to play the lead. He reached his half-century in 37 balls but departed two deliveries hence, mistiming a pull against Piyush Chawla and holing out to Javon Scantlebury-Searles at long-on. Samson could have been the hero. He bottled the opportunity.
“We didn’t bat well throughout the season. Bowlers were fantastic. Fielding and batting, we will look to improve next year and will come back stronger,” Rahane said after the match. To be fair though, KKR’s bowling was top-class and Royals badly missed Jos Buttler in this win-or-bust contest.
Rewind to the KKR innings now, to the 16th over, when the game hung in the balance. A 55-run fifth wicket partnership between Dinesh Karthik and Shubman Gill had helped KKR overcome a shaky start on a two-paced Eden Gardens pitch. But a big push was needed for a strong finish. Jaydev Unadkat returned for his second spell.
Rahane had other options to fall back on. K Gowtham, who bowled beautifully with the new ball, had an over left. Ben Laughlin still had three in the bag. Jofra Archer had two. But Royals’ Rs 11.5 crore auction buy was preferred, ostensibly to bowl his cutters on a sluggish surface. Unadkat bowled seam up instead and saw Karthik scoop him over the ‘keeper’s head for a four. A single next ball brought Andre Russell into the strike. Unadkat took the pace off the ball but offered hitting length. The big Jamaican smoked him over wide long-on for a six. The left-arm seamer failed to learn from his mistakes. Another length ball, wide outside the off stump, was crunched through covers for a four by Russell. A 19-run over changed the complexion of the match, putting KKR in the ascendancy.
Karthik’s brilliance: The KKR skipper offered the other end of the spectrum. Bought for Rs 7.4 crore and put on the captaincy hot seat, he has proved to be an asset for his team. The Nidahas Trophy final in Sri Lanka – 29 not out off eight balls – witnessed his jump to the next level – for a serious student of cricket, an upgrade is possible even at 32 years of age. And Karthik carried his form to the IPL. A tally of 490 runs in 15 matches at a strike-rate of 148 attests a purple patch. His 52 off 38 balls today was arguably the best of the lot.
Sunil Narine’s approach and his eventual dismissal on the second ball of the match had a touch of complacency. The first ball had been slapped for a boundary and an overzealous Narine stepped out to the next one from K Gowtham with a devil-may-care attitude. Heinrich Klaasen effected an easy stumping.
Robin Uthappa and Nitish Rana, too, departed in quick succession and after six overs, KKR had been struggling at 46/3 – their lowest Powerplay score in this IPL. To reach 169 in 20 overs from that position spoke volumes for batting depth and resolve of the side. Karthik played a gem. On a pitch that virtually ruled out hitting through the line, he used all his improvisations. Tickles down the leg, ramps, scoops – the captain revelled in his batting versatility, setting up KKR’s fourth win on the spin.
Andre Russell impact: Gill gave him good support, showing some lovely touches and a positive intent under pressure. His partnership with Karthik laid the basis for Russell to unleash the heavy artillery. A six on free-hit off Archer was his opening act. He took Unadkat to the cleaners, hammered Ben Laughlin and scored 49 not out off 25 balls, including three fours and five sixes to take the game away from Royals. Credit is due to the KKR management for retaining the all-rounder for Rs 8.5 crore despite his one-year cricket recluse because of a doping ban.
Russell returned to become KKR’s main impact player. “He is a big match player,” the team’s assistant coach Simon Katich had said on the Eliminator eve. Russell ran away with the Man-of-the-Match award.