Calcutta: Kolkata Knight Riders’ opponents often consider getting to bat for only 16 overs, leaving aside the four bowled by Sunil Narine, in an IPL match. Any runs scored off those four are thought to be a bonus.
For Gautam Gambhir, the mantra has always been pretty simple. When in trouble, turn to the off spinner. Three seasons into the tournament, Narine still remains a mystery, bewildering the batsmen with his variety and control.
At the Eden on Thursday, Shah Rukh Khan’s Knights strolled into the play-offs with a 30-run victory, while knocking out Royal Challengers Bangalore. Narine tilted the scales in the home team’s favour with a four-wicket haul that extended their winning streak to six matches.
The Man of the Match award could have gone Narine’s way, but there was consolation as he wrested the Purple Cap for the first time this season. Robin Uthappa, too, got past Glenn Maxwell to bag the Orange Cap.
Chasing 196 on the slow Eden Gardens wicket wasn’t going to be easy, but Royal Challengers began with a flourish despite losing Chris Gayle to a debatable leg before decision.
Virat Kohli and Yogesh Takawale maintained an impressive scoring rate, hammering Umesh Yadav and Ranganath Vinay Kumar until Narine and Shakib-al Hasan applied the brakes.
Takawale, who plays for Tripura in the domestic circuit, made a fluent 45 off 36 balls. The Royal Challengers galloped to 92 and looked set for a final assault.
It was not until Narine weaved magic in the 13 th over to dismiss Kohli, via an athletic Morne Morkel catch, and Takawale that Knight Riders seemed like staging a fight back.
Yuvraj Singh can never be written off in such contests. He began by hoisting Umesh for two sixes and one four in an over but Narine returned to dismiss both Yuvraj and AB de Villiers in his final over to pull the curtains down on the Royal Challengers’ chase.
Uthappa’s 83 not out off 51 balls will remain the highlight of the Knight Riders’ innings, but equally impressive and impact-creating was Shakib’s 60 off 38 balls that included five boundaries and three sixes.
Getting to bat first after nine matches once Kohli won the toss and decided to field, the onus was on the Knight Riders batsmen to prove that they are equally adept at setting targets.
The last time they took first strike was against the same opponents, almost a month back in Sharjah, with Gambhir’s men prevailing in a close encounter.
The early loss of Gambhir and Manish Pandey made little difference to their fortunes as Uthappa played another responsible innings and Shakib proved that his cameo against Chennai Super Kings was no flash in the pan.
Yusuf Pathan’s run out in the seventh over didn’t upset the momentum as the fourth wicket pair battled the conditions perfectly while taking advantage of some pretty ordinary bowling by the Royal Challengers.
Uthappa and Shakib stitched together 121 runs in 71 balls, with 78 coming off the last six overs. Uthappa has been on a roll and on Thursday became the highest run-getter with 572 runs.
Uthappa showed patience and didn’t take unnecessary risks knowing well that the Knight Riders needed his presence at the crease.
The opener concentrated on rotating the strike in the middle overs while not letting the bowlers enjoy the upperhand. While Shakib dealt with fours and sixes, Uthappa’s odd flourish enabled the Knight Riders maintain a scoring rate over eight an over.