CUTTACK: Gautam Gambhir’s third successive fifty anchored Kolkata Knight Riders’ chase and steered them to a nine-wicket win over table-toppers Kings XI Punjab. The Knight Riders bowlers had pinned Kings XI down to 149 - the second time in the tournament they were kept to less than 150 - despite a swift 72 from Virender Sehwag. The opening pair of Robin Uthappa and Gambhir - with two century stands in their last few games - set the platform for the chase, racing to 68 in seven overs. Uthappa’s fluency was evident early on as he laid into Sandeep Sharma’s second over, taking three fours off him, before collecting another 18 off Mitchell Johnson. Uthappa’s 28-ball 46 brought the asking rate under control and put the chase firmly within Knight Riders’ reach.
Conscious, perhaps, of the fact that another batting meltdown could end up becoming the symbol of Knight Riders’ campaign, Gambhir and Manish Pandey played mostly percentage cricket in their unbeaten 82-run stand, which took the team home with two overs to spare. There were a few run-out chances but Kings XI did not have the best day in the field- George Bailey’s dropped catch off Gambhir in the 17th over was the best example of that. Kings XI, who had opted for a seam-centric attack, would have felt the absence of a second spinner, especially after Akshar Patel kept Gambhir and Pandey quiet for a couple of overs in the middle. However, the biggest factor in the result was the stark difference between the two halves of the Kings XI innings.
Coming into this game, Knight Riders were the most economical team in the death overs in the IPL, giving away just 8.30 runs an over. In the UAE leg, they were also the team that managed to stifle Kings XI successfully. That control with the ball, especially in the latter half of the innings, set up the game for the side. At 10 overs, Kings XI were 85 for 2, but they made only 64 for 6 in the next ten. One of Knight Riders’ chief contributors was Piyush Chawla, who was brought back in place of Shakib Al Hasan. In UAE against Kings XI, the legspinner had figures of 4-0-19-3 and he finished even this game with the same numbers. Chawla struck immediately with the big wicket of Glenn Maxwell, and then got rid of Sehwag and Rishi Dhawan in the 15th and 17th overs. Chawla, along with Ryan ten Doeschate and Morne Morkel, smothered any momentum Kings XI would have hoped to build.
Narine came on at the end and choked the run flow and even the normally industrious Bailey found it difficult to push for boundaries. Between the 15th and 20th overs, Kings XI - who average 50 runs in this period of play - scored only three boundaries, and two of them were from Mitchell Johnson.
Before the ten-over mark, though, the innings was all about Sehwag and that was the most heartening sight for Kings XI. His studied nonchalance of old was on display when he smacked the first ball of the match, off Jacques Kallis, for four through the off side and then capitalised down leg as the bowler tried to compensate. He got to 50 off 35 balls, but like most Sehwag innings, the opposition also had their share of chances. He was dropped in the second over and a few shots fell out of reach of the fielders. Luckily for the Knight Riders, those mistakes weren’t too costly in the end.
Kolkata Knight Riders 150 for 1 (Gambhir 63*, Uthappa 46) beat Kings XI Punjab 149 for 8 (Sehwag 72, Chawla 3-19) by nine wickets.
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