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Knights conquer Cuttack

- The heroes: Robust Robin & scintillating Saha

Cuttack: The Barabati Stadium has made the Kolkata Knight Riders feel at home though they are yet to touch base after almost a month into IPL VII. Having decimated Kings XI Punjab, their extended run here bore fruit again with another stupendous show on Wednesday.

The six-wicket victory was Knight Riders’ third on the trot. Sunrisers Hyderabad’s loss to Kings XI Punjab earlier in the day came as a boon for Gautam Gambhir’s men and they knew that full points would give them an advantage in their bid for a place in the playoffs.

Having not been swayed by the big names, they’ve picked the right men in the playing XI and are gelling as a unit. Inspirational leadership, commitment and dedication have also played its part in this success.

After a slew of shaky starts, Knight Riders have found a reliable top-order and have reaped the rewards. The confidence and assurance with which their openers have gone about their task have been unmatched this season.

The target of 142 against Mumbai Indians wasn’t going to be easy considering the slow conditions and the presence of Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha in the opposition ranks. Equally important was to be Lasith Malinga’s spell.

But Gambhir and Robin Uthappa’s choice and execution of strokes made the Mumbai Indians bowlers pale into insignificance. They picked up the gaps with Úlan and never wasted an opportunity to run the singles. Their understanding and running between the wickets have inspired belief in the men to follow.

It showed in the way Manish Pandey batted after Gambhir had dragged one onto his stumps following a 50-run partnership. The second-wicket pair showed poise in conditions that weren’t tailor-made for batsmen. Harbhajan and Ojha were milked dry by intelligent use of the feet and good judgement.

Uthappa has been a revelation. His 80 off 52 balls was tremendous in execution while being near-perfect in technique. Having had a impressive run in the domestic circuit, he has only made sure he continues in the same vein. He’s willing to take responsibility and showed it in the way he guided the young Pandey.

Two consecutive cleanly struck sixes off Lendl Simmons were an example of the timing and perfection Uthappa brought into the middle. To the Knight Riders’ dismay, he was bowled in the same over.

Once Harbhajan and Ojha finished their quota of overs, Mumbai Indians’ attack hardly showed any penetration.

The Knight Riders needed 26 off 24 balls when Uthappa departed. But Yusuf Pathan and Shakib-al Hasan ensured safety. Though Shakib was out towards the end of the chase, the Knights pulled it off with eight balls remaining.

The decision to drop Jacques Kallis, the hero of their victory during the last meeting between the two sides, did surprise many. The choice probably stemmed from their faith in the in-form opening combination.

The sluggishness of the wicket helped the Knight Riders spinners as the batsmen found it difficult to slog it over the infield. But the real surprise was Morne Morkel.

Like in the previous match against Kings XI Punjab, he worked up express pace on these flat conditions.

It could have been worse for Mumbai Indians had Shakib managed to hold on to a brilliant effort in the deep from Ambati Rayudu. The let-off on 7 proved costly as Rayudu progressed to 33 off 27 balls to give the innings stability.

Corey Anderson and Rohit Sharma combined to give the Mumbai Indians innings renewed hope once they hammered Piyush Chawla for 17 to induce some momentum.

The Mumbai Indians captain then took the responsibility upon himself with some clean hitting to spoil Morkel’s figures with two sixes in one over.

Rohit rode his luck when Pathan made a mess off a dolly at long on. Pathan has been an embarrassment on the field with the captain struggling to hide his limitations.

Rohit’s departure, trying an over-ambitious shot against Narine, dented Mumbai Indians hopes of reaching the 150-mark in the final over. But his 51 off 45 balls had at least given the side a chance.

That the Knight Riders made full use of the ‘home’ advantage is another story.