For a team that built its reputation pretty much on the slower bowlers, it took Kolkata Knight Riders too long to introduce spin, the 10th over. The former champions had their reasons. All-rounder Andre Russell looked in rhythm despite having enjoyed a long Caribbean party that had started at the Eden Gardens on April 3.
Russell had arrived from home after the World Twenty20 victory celebrations only on Saturday night, but there was no sign of jetlag. And burly Aussie pacer John Hastings, who is named after Hollywood icon John Wayne, was making the ball talk as if he was guiding it with a remote.
It was perhaps the grass covering on the pitch that made Kolkata Knight Riders captain Gautam Gambhir bench Shakib Al Hasan in favour of Hastings. The decision seemed strange at the toss since KKR have at times looked vulnerable without spinner Sunil Narine. But in both innings, the ball moved off the pitch. And between the two teams, KKR were better equipped to exploit that.
OLD MASTER TAMED
That fame matters little in a format as evolving as Twenty20 was proved in the way Zaheer Khan was milked in his first over. Couple of flicks by Gambhir through the on-side followed by a crisp cover drive by Robin Uthappa suddenly awoke Zaheer to the reality of Twenty20 cricket. His colleagues were better, especially Aussie pacer Nathan Coulter-Nile, who almost pulled off a maiden first over. Even Carlos Brathwaite induced a few false shots from Gambhir with the ball that moved away. But 98 was never a total to be defended.
KKR deserved credit for the details they had gone into while planning their bowling. In the absence of Narine and Shakib, Brad Hogg and Piyush Chawla were designated to bowl eight overs between them. But instead of giving Delhi’s top order Indian batsmen a chance to settle down against spin, which they are comfortable playing, Gambhir tested them with the pace of Russell, Hastings and Umesh Yadav. All were quick and moved the ball a fair bit, often with two slips in place.
By the time a 45-year-old Hogg came on to bowl, Delhi had already lost four wickets to pace. Hogg and Chawla only accelerated Delhi’s implosion. Pawan Negi was done in more by his frustration than Hogg’s spin before Chawla put Brathwaite in his place with a brilliant googly.
Knocking off 99 runs in their backyard wasn’t a big deal for KKR. The win would have been more emphatic had Robin Uthappa not been caught by Chris Morris at long-off in the 10th over. Even the run-rate could have been a little better. But KKR were careful about ticking the important boxes. They started with a convincing win. Gambhir got runs. But more importantly, the two-time champions proved that they can still throw their weight around without two of their best match-winners.