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Balaji is the Knight Rider in shining armour

A noticeable feature of the hat-trick of wins by the Kolkata Knight Riders after the opening setback is the prominent role played by an Indian medium-pacer. Atreyo Mukhopadhyay reports. Bala in IPL-4

cricket Updated: Apr 19, 2011 01:52 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay

A noticeable feature of the hat-trick of wins by the Kolkata Knight Riders after the opening setback is the prominent role played by an Indian medium-pacer. After struggling on this front for three years, Shah Rukh Khan's team seems to have found one in L Balaji.

He got the new ball in two of the four matches the Knights have played so far, but Gautam Gambhir's faith in Balaji to do the job in the death overs is clear. The captain has used this Rs 2.3 crore buy from Chennai Super Kings towards the end in all matches and Balaji has responded with some tidy stuff on most occasions.

Miserly spells
Even in the loss against the Super Kings, Balaji gave away only six and five in the 17th and the 19th overs, respectively.

Despite bowling a number of dot balls and conceding just two wides, Balaji went wicketless in the first three games before ending the wait with a MoM effort against Rajasthan Royals on Sunday. The dangerous Shane Watson was his first victim and the bowler rated the leg-cutter that got him as his best delivery.

"It was a good ball and very satisfying. I wish I could bowl one like that seven-eight years ago. I'll try to bowl that again. It was an important ball too because we wanted Watson's wicket within the first six overs," Balaji said of the delivery which angled in before seaming away and hitting off stump.

Lee's ideal partner
Balaji coming good is important for the balance of the Knights, who have opted for an overseas fast bowler every season but never got his Indian counterparts to support him. Ishant Sharma, Ashok Dinda, Ajit Agarkar all performed below expectations and the team released all of them before buying Balaji from the auctions to partner Brett Lee.

Like most of his teammates, Balaji doesn't carry the bad memories which characterised the campaign of the Knights in the first three years. He was not part of the team that couldn't defend 25 runs in the last over (against Deccan Chargers in 2009) or lost in the super over after failing to get two from three balls (against Rajasthan Royals, also in 2009).

Nightmare over?
So, after the Knights lost needing nine from eight balls in the first match this season, it was not a continuation of the nightmare for Balaji & Co, unlike the team owners and fans. For them, it was just a narrow defeat, not an addition to a growing list of sequels of an unsuccessful story.

"This a completely new team with a new captain. The past is over. We're looking ahead and working hard. For us, what happened in the past doesn't matter," said Balaji when asked whether they were conscious of the Knights' chequered past.