Lynn, Karthik play key knocks as Knights chase successfully
Calcutta: Things seem to be falling into place for the Kolkata Knight Riders as the business end of IPL XI draws near. The bowling has shown signs of maturity, the batsmen seem to have cut down on their suicidal tendencies and, more importantly, the team is clicking as a unit.
On Tuesday, they showed the qualities that make a champion team tick. With two overs remaining, they completed a six-wicket victory over Rajasthan Royals.
The Knight Riders have thus taken another step closer to the play-offs berth. The hosts have 14 points from 13 matches, while improving marginally on their net run-rate. The Royals remain on 12 points from 13 games.
A target of 143 wasn't going to be difficult for the Knight Riders after choosing to field. The slowness of the wicket, however, did make stroke-making a bit tougher, but their proximity to the conditions helped Karthik and Co.
Sunil Narine set the tone for the chase with a first ball six and 21 off the first over. But once he departed in the second over and Robin Uthappa fell a little later, it was up to Chris Lynn to anchor the innings.
It was an uncharacteristic Lynn, who shouldered the responsibility as batsmen perished at the other end. His innings of 45 off 42 balls provided the stability until he decided to throw caution to the winds.
Dinesh Karthik once again played the role of a finisher to perfection, but the meagre target did make his job a bit easier. The Knight Riders captain, who remained unbeaten on 41 off 31 balls, finished it off with a six off Jofra Archer.
There was hardly any threat in the Royals bowling except Ben Stokes. The England all-rounder used the bounce on the Eden wicket to unsettle the batsmen before finishing with three for 15 off his four overs.
That Jos Buttler and Stokes have been included in England's squad for the first Test against Pakistan means the duo will be unavailable if the Royals still manage to make the play-offs.
How do you stop Buttler? That had been the foremost question haunting the Knights going into the match. They were though hoping that the law of averages would finally catch up with the opener after his string of five half-centuries in a row.
Opening the attack with Narine was being considered a viable option. The off-spinner had dismissed Buttler twice in eight T20 matches, while conceding only 28 runs off 29 balls.
Karthik, however, kept faith on the young pace duo of Shivam Mavi and Prasidh Krishna. The start could have been ominous but Rahul Tripathi survived a chance at slip off the first ball of the match.
The opening over, which yielded just two runs, turned out to be the proverbial lull before the storm as Buttler launched into an overdrive. Nineteen came off the second over and 28 of the third as Mavi and Prasidh were torn to shreds. Ten boundaries came off as many balls and there was no stopping the openers.
The third over turned out to be the most dramatic. Buttler scooped Mavi over fine leg twice after walking across the stumps to pick deliveries pitched on the middle and leg for two huge sixes. There were also four boundaries, a result of his fine reflexes and timing.
At 49 for no loss, it seemed Buttler was on a roll again. Karthik finally decided that there was no room for experiments, falling back on Narine to stem the run fest.
Andre Russell (2/13) and Kuldeep Yadav (4/20) complemented Narine's (1/29) fine efforts as the Royals struggled to maintain their momentum. The pressure did tell on the batsmen as wickets tumbled.
Russell accounted for Tripathi, but Kuldeep did the bulk of the damage. Going around the wicket, the wrist spinner slowed the pace, varied the angle and forced the batsmen into playing pre-meditated shots.
Ajinkya Rahane continued with his inconsistent form as he paid the price for choosing to reverse sweep Kuldeep.
Buttler slowed down as well, going from 36 off 15 at the six-over mark to 39 off 22 before misreading Kuldeep's delivery that bounced more than he expected. The reverse sweep landed into the hands of short third man.
The Royals had slumped to 92 for three in the 10th over and once Sanju Samson was removed by Narine in the next over, it was almost curtains for them. The remaining batsmen hardly showed the zeal and determination to pull them out of the woods.