Royals, the tortoise, downed by the Knights, the hare.
Rajasthan Royals paid the price for a turgid innings, on what Kolkata Knight Riders proved was a very good batting track. Despite losing only three wickets, and having had a second-wicket partnership worth 72, Royals mustered only 139 for 3 in their 20 overs. No team in IPL history has made a poorer score for the loss of three wickets or less.
Just like in the Charles Dickens novel, but that famous introduction needs a small tweak. The worst of times came first, in Rajasthan Royals’ innings.
Ajinkya Rahane managed a four in the first over, bowled by Piyush Chawla, but was out LBW off the first ball to give Kolkata Knight Riders a neat start. Narine and Chawla then combined to tie Jos Buttler and Steve Smith up for the rest of the powerplay. The powerplay saw the Royals play out 20 dot deliveries, apart from the wicket of Rahane, as they trudged to a sub-par 28/1 – their lowest powerplay score this IPL. That lack of momentum continued to trouble RR throughout their innings.
For KKR, the powerplay could not have been more in contrast. It was the kind of start befitting the Dickens novel comparison. Rahane made the caridnal sin of letting Narine face a spinner up front, and the West Indian needed no second invitation to take on K Gowtham. Four fours and a six later, KKR had already brought their required run rate to six.
The flurry of boundaries came in soon after. Lynn smashed Jofra Archer over long on to bring up the team 50 off the 25th ball. Luck played its part too. Narine was dropped by Rahul Tripathi on 23, while Lynn should have been bowled by Dhawal Kulkarni, but the bails refused to come off. KKR finished with 65 in their powerplay, and at that point, the match looked done with as a contest.
Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes just could not get going in this match. They faced 34 and 14 balls respectively, but neither could strike at more than 110. Only Steven Smith managed a half-decent ouput, scoring 73 not out off 59 deliveries. Even that is not exactly a stellar innings, though.
In response, Knight Riders were brutal. Sunil Narine and Chris Lynn blazed through the opening overs, hitting 65 off the Powerplay for no loss. Narine had 47 off 25 balls when he was dismissed, but with the score at 91 in the ninth over, the result was almost a foregone conclusion. Lynn hit 50 off 32, and was the other batsman to be dismissed in Knight Riders’ chase. Robin Uthappa eased the team to victory with a 26 not out off 16 balls. They had a whopping 37 balls remaining when a wide from Stokes sealed the result.
A third of he deliveries Sunil Narine delivered were dot balls. Piyush Chawla was even better – 13 of his 24 balls were dots. It is not as if Royals did not venture big shots off them. These bowlers were just too good, beating the Royals top order in the air as well as off the pitch. Harry Gurney was outstanding in his first IPL match this season as well, conceding only three from the 16th over, and only eight from the 20th, despite giving away a four to Steven Smith.S
Although Smith would eventually muster 73 off 59, his batting in the early overs was perhaps more suited to ODIs than T20s. He was on 39 off 40 at one stage, for example, despite never appearing to be in any particular discomfort at the crease. Smith was a little more adventurous in the last six overs of the innings. But more risks earlier on from a set batsman might have set Royals on track to a competitive score.R
Smith made 34 off the last 19 balls, but despite the fact that Royals had lost only two wickets going into the death, there was a woeful lack of intent at the other end. Looking back on that finish, it seems likely that Royals misread the pitch, and believed a low score to be defendable.
Ben Stokes, for example, took a few deliveries to play himself in, rather than attempting boundaries from the outset. When he did later try to go big, the Knight Riders bowlers outwitted him, restricting him to a sorry 7 off 14 balls. Rahul Tripathi fared little better. His 6 came off 8 balls, before Gurney had him caught.
Tripathi had one more regretful moment in the game – when he dropped Sunil Narine for 23 in the fourth over, allowing the Knight Riders opener to continue lavishly swinging his bat. Next ball, Dhawal Kulkarni grazed Chris Lynn’s leg stump, but although the bails lit up, they did not dislodge, and the batsman was free to continue.
The Knight Riders openers rode those gigantic slices of luck to a match-winning opening stand. Narine was the more aggressive of the two, hitting 47 off 25 at a strike rate of 188, hitting three sixes. Lynn was hot on his heels, making 50 off 32 in the end, launching three sixes himself. When Narine was eventually caught at slip off the bowling of Shreyas Gopal in the ninth over, Knight Riders only needed 49 off 69 balls to win. In the end it was a cakewalk. Earlier, DK decided to amend his otherwise weaker pace battery by getting the famous in County circuit ‘Harry Gurney’ in the lineup who with his well disguised slower ones gave nothing away and ended up with Man of the match which was the apparent difference between the two teams along with the Narine hammering. Rajasthan have a lot to ponder with their loopholes and knowing that their main men are to fly off at the back end of the tournament, Ajinkya Rahane’s statement look more of an optimistic one than a reality.