One look at the pitch and it became clear that Rajasthan Royals were playing generous hosts. The dry pitch, with the ball turning appreciably, played right into Kolkata Knight Riders’ hands.
The visitors had more than enough to take advantage of conditions. In Sunil Narine, Piyush Chawla and Kuldeep Yadav kept a tight leash on batsmen – the first two conceding less than six runs to the over. Chawla has been around the paddock for a long time, but is often overlooked. However, he has seldom let KKR down. Harry Gurney, who came into the XI in Lockie Ferguson’s place, runs in from a longer distance, but the pace on the ball is closer to that of tweakers. Thus 80 per cent of the overs provided hardly anything for the batsmen to work with. To exacerbate Royals’ woes, the only genuine quick bowler on show, Prasidh Krishna continued to impress with his pace and clear thinking, despite being a bit off the mark towards the end.
Another factor in KKR’s favour is that baring a couple of batsmen, the Royals’ batsmen struggled to score freely against the lavishly turning ball. Steve Smith top-scored with a 73 off 59 balls, but the innings was more a sheet-anchor effort rather than a dominant one. The Royals lost just three wickets, but at no stage did they look in control of proceedings. What they reached in the end could have been a tricky target, but KKR showed they have all boxes ticked at the moment.
Ajinkya Rahane has had one significant innings this season, and on other occasions has neither managed to stay till the end, nor make the desired impact in terms of the scoring rate.
Chawla opened the bowling and despite Jos Buttler being in the middle, kept a lid on the scoring. The marauding Englishman, who has generally been difficult to bowl to in the Powerplay, failed to come to grips with the difficult conditions. He stayed at the crease for almost 12 overs, but barely managed to score at more than a run a ball.
After Buttler’s departure, Smith decided that he had to stay till the 20th over for the Royals to post any sort of challenging total, as they didn’t have the sort of firepower needed at the back end to score freely on the pitch provided for the game. His first IPL half-century since the 2017 season was by no means fluent, and he only reached the landmark off 44 balls, when Krishna returned to add some velocity on the ball. Rahul Tripathi and Ben Stokes have risen to the challenge on precious occasions, but it didn’t happen on Sunday.
The England all-rounder, especially, has flattered to deceive this term and needs to contribute more before he and Buttler leave for World Cup preparatory camp.
Gurney was a revelation as his change of pace and variation caught batsmen by surprise. He took two wickets for just 25 runs and gave Dinesh Karthik and the team management another viable option. The English left-armer is already a serial winner on the T20 circuit with titles in the Big Bash (Melbourne Renegades) and Pakistan Super League (Quetta Gladiators), and going by the start that the Knight Riders have made, a three-peat is not out of the question.
Opening salvo flattens Royals
Another reason for the pitch playing into the visitors’ hands was the disparity between the spinners from both sides. Krishnappa Gowtham, Shreyas Gopal and Sudhesan Mithun were nowhere near the pedigree of Narine, Yadav and Chawla. Royals tried to hit KKR’s openers with spin, but forgot that Sunil Narine – who opened with Chris Lynn – is comfortable against such an attack.
He took down Gowtham in his first – and what transpired to be his only – over for 22 runs and the result was never in doubt from thereon. Their 91-run stand finished the match as a contest.
It proved that despite all talk of consolidation and percentage play, it two batsmen looking to hit every ball to the boundary and beyond stay in for a while, it makes a mockery of all scenarios. Lynn and Narine don’t have techniques approved by purists, but on Sunday they showed why KKR have kept them at the top of the order.
It was a question of when, and not if, and Kolkata put the hosts out of their misery in 13.5 overs, doing their own net run rate no harm at all. And for a change, they didn’t have to rely on Andre Russell’s pyrotechniques.
Aparty from Jofra Archer, the Royals didn’t have anyone who could hurry up the two batsmen intent on going for a big shot almost every ball. Dhawal Kulkarni is just the sort of bowler Lynn enjoys – a metronomic medium pacer who provides few surprises. Even when he did manage to breach the Australian’s defence, the bails moved but refused to be dislodged.
It showed what kind of day the two teams were having. While the Royals look likely to be fighting with Bangalore at the basement of the league, KKR seem set to contest for bigger glories this season.