Before Sunday, Kolkata Knight Riders had won three games out of three while bowling first. On Sunday, they chased again, won again, and went top of the table in a tournament where chasing teams had won 17 out of 20 matches. Chasing 161, they were coasting at 111 for 3 before they slumped dramatically, losing five wickets in 30 balls, and only sealed victory when Umesh Yadav struck a meaty straight six with five runs needed off the last four balls.
Knight Riders’ slump began in the 15th over, when Rajat Bhatia’s stump-to-stump line, and Yusuf Pathan’s across-the-line response, ended a 51-run stand for the fourth wicket with Suryakumar Yadav. That partnership, coming on the back of Suryakumar’s stands of 31 and 29 with Gautam Gambhir and Shakib Al Hasan, had taken Knight Riders to a position where they needed 50 off the last 34 balls, with six wickets in hand.
But when M Ashwin struck in the next over, defeating Suryakumar with a ripping googly, and particularly when Andre Russell – who struck two big sixes off Ankit Sharma in the 17th over – holed out to a slower ball from Thisara Perera, a one-sided contest turned into a thriller. Knight Riders kept in touch with the required rate with a boundary whenever they needed it, but they also kept losing wickets. In the end, they had Nos. 9 and 10 at the crease when Umesh slogged Perera high over long-on.
In his post-match interview, MS Dhoni said he was happy with Supergiants’ total of 160, and thought his spinners had given the match away by bowling too full on a slow pitch offering plenty of turn. There were six sixes hit off the Supergiants spinners, and all six came off balls that were in the slot for lofted hits.
It was a definite contrast to the way the Knight Riders spinners had operated, largely bowling just short of a good length, and extracting generous turn that made it hard to hit down the ground or against the break.
Ajinkya Rahane came into the match with two half-centuries in his last four innings, and demonstrated his silky form with an effortless flicked six off Morne Morkel in the third over of the Supergiants innings, and two fours off the next six balls he faced.
The introduction of Shakib Al Hasan, in the fourth over, revealed the extent of turn available, as he straightened one from wide of the crease to clip Faf du Plessis’ off stump. With Shakib bowling three overs by the end of the eighth over, and Gambhir introducing Piyush Chawla early as well, Rahane and Steven Smith spent a fair amount of time negotiating balls turning away from them, and sharply at that. They were busy in this period, working the ball into gaps and running frantically, and had put on 56 in 8.2 overs when Smith was needlessly run out, backing up too far down the pitch.
Dhoni sent in the left-handed Perera and Albie Morkel ahead of him, and they both made cameos, hitting three sixes between them to lift the run rate alongside Rahane, who hit a couple of sixes as well, off Chawla and Umesh in the 16th and 17th over.
Rahane’s dismissal at the start of the 18th over brought in Dhoni, and the Supergiants captain punished a wayward Morne Morkel in the final over, pulling him for six and four either side of a whipped boundary manufactured off a leg-stump yorker. Supergiants had taken 17 off the last over, and 70 off the last six.
Albie, playing his first match for Supergiants, showed he had a fair idea of how to bowl on this pitch when he struck with his first ball, a slower offcutter that clanged into Robin Uthappa’s front pad in front of off stump. But his brother Morne’s tendency to bowl short also rubbed off on him, and Gambhir and Suryakumar hit him for three fours over the remainder of an eventful first over.
When Albie overcompensated and fed Suryakumar two overpitched balls in the third over, Knight Riders were racing along at 29 for 1. But they lost Gambhir against the run of play, when he turned for a non-existent second run, and Supergiants were back in the contest.
With M Ashwin and Ankit Sharma forming an inexperienced two-thirds of Supergiants’ spin attack, Dhoni needed R Ashwin to be at his best. But it wasn’t his day. Introduced in the fourth over, he struggled to find the right line, length and pace to bowl on this pitch. He bowled three leg-side wides that spun from outside off stump, fed two balls in Suryakumar’s six-hitting slot, went around the wicket to try and change his luck, and did all of this in the space of two overs.
Two overs was all he would bowl. Dhoni ignored opportunities to use him outside the Powerplay, perhaps unwilling to use him against a succession of right-handed Knight Riders batsmen, but it showed, not for the first time in recent months, a lack of trust in a proven, experienced spinner.