IPL Game 6: KKR vs KXIP, March 27, Eden Gardens
You had to feel for Mohammed Shami. At the death, on a batting track dusted nicely with grass to ensure the ball comes on to the bat, he did every single thing right against the most destructive batsman in the opposition line up.
As soon as he saw Andre Russell take strike against him Shami went around the wicket and bowled the Yorker length from wide of the crease, creating an acute angle that gave no scope for Russell to bring those bulging muscles into play.
He tied Russell up for two deliveries and, with the most perfect inswinging Yorker you could imagine, destroyed his stumps with the third – only to find the umpire calling a no ball. Not because Shami had overstepped but because there were only three fielders, against the mandatory four, inside the thirty yard circle. Ravi Ashwin, whose deep knowledge of the rule book was on display the other day, looked devastated; Shami’s normally lugubrious expression lengthened even further.
KXIP paid for that schoolboy lapse, and how: Andrew Tye, who had gone for just seven runs in his first two overs, came in for the 18th and Russell top edged a lifting delivery into the stands, then clubbed a four to long on, the skied another one so high KL Rahul, keeping wickets, had time to run to the fine leg boundary before the ball bounced just in front of him, and rounded off the over with a slogged six over wide long on.
Shami came in for the 19th, and Russell picked him off in a sequence that went 6-6-6-4. Here is what should haunt KXIP in its dreams tonight: Russell managed just 3 runs off the first five balls he faced; off the next 11, he clubbed 45 runs; it could have easily been 51 in 12 but Mayank Agarwal showed great skill flirting with the boundary line at deep midwicket to hold a clubbed shot as it looked to be sailing over.
From the moment Ashwin won the toss and inserted the opposition on a pitch that looked good for batting and square boundaries so close you could almost reach out and touch them, big-hitting was the order of the day.
It started with Sunil Narine, promoted back to the top of the order, going after ‘mystery spinner’ Varun Chakravarthy, who was given the ball for the second over. The thing about bowlers with lots of variety is the tendency to try too much too soon, rather than take a few stock balls to get the range and rhythm right. Chakravarthy tried every single one of his variations, and Narine needed just one: clear the front foot, swing from the hips, and let the ball go sailing wherever. It sailed – for three sixes and a four to welcome the newcomer to the big leagues.
The next point of interest, after Chris Lynn and Sunil Narine duly fell on their swords, was Nitish Rana, batting at four. The left hander seemed to have a marked preference for Ravi Ashwin – every time the offie came on to bowl, Rana lit up and peppered the stands. Ashwin in his first game hadn’t conceded a single boundary; here he gave away four sixes to Rana alone, going for 47 in his four.
For all of Russell’s muscle-bound play at the death, the game was really set up by Robin Uthappa, cruising along at about the third gear and still ending up unbeaten on 67 off 50 and Rana, who in a brilliant display of controlled hitting scored 63 off just 34 with seven sixes and two fours.
In games such as this – KKR batsmen smashed 17 sixes to go with 14 fours – there is often nothing much to say about the bowling. Not true here, though: Shami, barring the Russell blitz in his last over, bowled with great discipline and skill both at the start and the end of the innings; Hardus Viljoen showed a bit of the pace that has helped him build a reputation and Andrew Tye was brilliant at each phase of the innings with brilliantly disguised change-ups and change-downs, coupled with the ability to make the ball lift at will off length.
The standout though was Varun Chakravarthy. Monstered in his first two overs, he came back to produce a perfect over that saw Rana, at that point riding the wind in his sails, struggle to get away and end up mishitting a beautifully disguised googly high in the air to mid off. To keep his head and bowl as he did after the treatment he got early on took immense courage; to bowl the way he did in his third over took the sort of skill that has made him one of the most talked of players of the season.
Any side chasing 214 is under pressure; at the halfway stage KXIP had enough reason to rue the insertion after Ashwin had won the toss. For the chase to work, KXIP needed its star opening combination of KL Rahul and Chris Gayle to go both big and long. Neither happened.
A combination of the extra pace Lockie Ferguson generates and Rahul’s propensity to play the checked drive ended with the simplest of catches to mid off after the opener had made just one run off five balls faced. Gayle got off the blocks in ominous fashion, lightly tapping Prasid Krishna’s second ball, a lifter outside off, with the toe of his bat and languidly leaning back to watch it sail over backward point for six. It looked like he had begun to find his range, and get his muscles nicely loose, as he added another towering six and two bludgeoned boundaries but Andre Russell, who on the day could do no wrong, banged one in and made it lift into Gayle, cramping him for room on the attempted thump – the looping skier ended up in the hands of Krishna at mid on. 37/2 in the 5th over became 60/3 in the 8th when Russell, again, used his shoulders to produce a lifting off cutter that Sarfaraz Khan, trying to swipe to midwicket, managed only to top edge for keeper Dinesh Karthik to run around and hold.
The run rate by then had climbed over 13, half the KXIP batting was back in the hut. KKR’s success with the bat owed to what seemed a predetermined decision to target the spinners – Ashwin and Chakravarthy went for 81 in just seven overs for just the one wicket to the latter. Against that, KKR had in Kuldeep Yadav, Sunil Narine and Piyush Chawla a spin troika capable of shutting down the game.
David Miller, back in the side, and Mayank Agarwal gave it their best shot. Agarwal batted with smooth control, bringing up his first 50 in the competition since 2015 off just 28 balls. BNut the run rate was constantly climbing, the pressure intensifying, and Piyush Chawla with a perfectly pitched wrong ‘un beat his attempted sweep to knock back leg stump, reducing KXIP to 134/4 with an asking rate, at that point, of 18.21 per over in 4.3 overs.
Miller showed no sign of rust; Mandeep did enough to underline his promise – but KXIP ended up needing 42 runs off the last six balls. Which is all the epitaph this game needs, really.