The question continues to be asked. How do you stop Kolkata Knight Riders’ opening pair of Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa from orchestrating a devastating duet?
Three teams tried to come up with a counter tune and two of them failed. Kings XI Punjab became the third side to feel the wrath of the duo as Kolkata clobbered the weary side by six wickets at the PCA stadium in Mohali on Tuesday.
Chasing has been Kolkata’s strength this season—the only time they set a target, they lost to Mumbai Indians—and it helped their cause that Gambhir won the toss. The skipper put Punjab in and strangled them from the get go to have them at 138 for 8.
Kolkata lacked intensity towards the end and it resulted in a few more runs than Punjab looked like they would get at one stage. But those runs, mainly coming through Shaun Marsh’s unbeaten 56, weren’t a game changer. At least not for a side with its openers in prime form.
Gambhir and Uthappa added 82 runs from 8.3 overs to lay the foundation for Kolkata to build on and reach 139 for 4 with 17 balls to spare. Uthappa made 53 from 28 and Gambhir made a sturdy 33-ball 34 before Yusuf Pathan and Suryakumar Yadav saw Kolkata through.
Like in their two other wins, it was the bowlers who set it up for them.
Gambhir, aware of Punjab’s reliance on their top two this season, brought on the spinners early despite tasting success with Morne Morkel, who accounted for Manan Vohra in the fourth over.
M. Vijay was looking far too comfortable against Morkel and Marsh too was beginning to find his feet when pace was on offer. In came Narine in the sixth over, and that’s when the lull began for Punjab. The West Indian gave away a mere three runs in his first over and by then Punjab had just 44 runs from seven overs.
It was only a matter of time before the pressure got to David Miller’s men. Marsh was the one looking most vulnerable, but it was Vijay who succumbed after failing to read a cracker of a googly from Piyush Chawla.
Gambhir had found the two bowlers to strangle Punjab with and this period also fetched Kolkata the wicket of Wriddhiman Saha, who was sent ahead of Miller. It seemed like a good idea to promote Saha, who has a better understanding of the conditions, but the experiment came to an end after 14 deliveries as he edged one from Narine to Uthappa. There was some doubt regarding the dismissal because the ball touched the wicketkeeper’s helmet before he completed the catch. But it didn’t matter: Saha was gone and Miller had to face the brunt of Kolkata’s bowling.
The captain was put out of his misery early. Uneasy with his footwork as any batsman would be with scores of 14, 11, 15, 9, 7 and 6 in his last six IPL innings, Miller shaped up for a cut and edged the arm-ball to Uthappa for a clean take this time.
Punjab’s hopes of a big score were squarely on Glenn Maxwell’s shoulders. He walked in in the 13th over and had the luxury of being able to settle in. He took six balls to do so and when he decided to take on Narine, the Australian picked the reverse sweep to break free; it was a clean hit. The only problem there was that Chawla was just moved to point from short third man and it was hit straight to him.
That was Narine’s second wicket and it came in the penultimate ball of his four-over quota. His figures were 4 overs, 10 dots, 22 runs, 2 wickets. Pretty special for a bowler who had his action corrected and cleared just before the start of this season.
Morkel, who made his way into the side in the previous game after John Hastings was ruled out with an injured ankle, came up with solid figures of 2 for 27 from four overs to inject strength into the one unit that seemed low on energy. Barring Andre Russell, who went for 18 runs in the final over—his only over—the rest of the bowlers executed their roles like clockwork and left it to the batsmen to deliver on it.
Two partnerships of 50-plus in the last three games gave Uthappa and Gambhir the mental edge. They were confident and the bowlers were weary. In fact, the only aspect that looked out of sync with the pair was their calling between wickets.
On two separate occasions Gambhir should have been run out, but Lady Luck sang the Kolkata tune, and the duo went with the flow until Pardeep Sahu, who finished with 2 of 18 from four overs, trapped Uthappa in front of the stumps.
Although Gambhir, Pandey and Shakib Al Hasan fell in a hurry, Pathan and Yadav finished things off in style. A cracking straight drive on the rise from Yadav was the stroke that brought the proceedings to an end. It was as clean as Kolkata’s overall performance.
Roshan Thyagarajan is cricket correspondent at Wisden India. Mint has a content partnership with Wisden India for the IPL 9 season.