A less-spoken aspect of the Kolkata Knight Riders is the stability their opening batsmen have provided over the years. Ever since Robin Uthappa and Gautam Gambhir came together, rarely have KKR tried out any other combination. They are great at running between wickets, don’t get bogged by the short ball and have a knack of building on good starts. Ask Gambhir, who now has 28 half-centuries to his name, the highest for any batsman in IPL.
Having lost Yuvraj Singh and Ashish Nehra to injury, Hyderabad would have expected a responsible if not rousing start to the innings from their international openers. Their response was in complete contradiction to what the KRR openers --- both haven’t played international cricket for some time now --- came up with. That spelt the difference between the two sides.
Shikhar Dhawan continued to find new ways to be dismissed. This time, he went down the track flashing hard but only got a thick edge that Uthappa did well to catch. It preceded David Warner’s departure by just four balls. Warner, gifted a life by an overstep from Morne Morkel in the second delivery of the innings, got a leading edge to a slower delivery from Umesh Yadav.
It quickly exposed the middle order and barring a 67-run partnership between Eoin Morgan and Naman Ojha, Hyderabad had little to offer in resistance to KKR’s acclaimed bowlers. Hyderabad could have possibly dented KKR’s start had it not been for Warner’s bizarre tactics. Instead of starting with Mustafizur Rahman, they waited for four overs.
That was all Uthappa and Gambhir needed. Scoring heavily was second to the priority of settling down fast. Rahman came and made his presence felt straightaway by hitting Uthappa on his fingers with a rising delivery. But Warner’s decision to pull him out of the attack and draft in Karn Sharma, who got a hiding in the previous match, was baffling. That move backfired when Sharma conceded 14 runs in the 11th over, prompting Warner to bring back Rahman from the other end.
But the KKR openers were on a roll by then. Uthappa played his part by threading the gaps, dabbing the ball close to him before bolting for the singles. Gambhir started in similar fashion but three boundaries marked a shift in his attitude that only became more menacing with time.
Hitting just one six in comparison to 13 boundaries, Gambhir was the best advertisement of how measured aggression can win matches. Not once did he look out of control of the chase, not even when Rahman created a momentary scare by flooring Andre Russell with a brilliant yorker. It only steeled Gambhir’s resolve to stay till the end of the chase. KKR have lost few when he has been in that mood.