Strange are the ways of Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR). They choose to chase despite knowing batting hasn't been their best suit in recent days. And when their bowlers actually deliver, leaving them with an asking rate of just above six, they send Sunil Narine ahead of Eoin Morgan or even Andre Russell to complicate what should have been a breeze of a chase.
Punjab Kings, wearing a grim look after the end of their innings, probably thought they got out of jail when Ravi Bishnoi pulled off the catch of this IPL, sending KKR tumbling to 17/3. Punjab's defence of 123 was nothing short of magical. The fielding was on point, with Mohammad Shami almost churned yorkers at will while Bishnoi kept asking questions of Morgan with his away turners. Shami averaged 6.25, Bishnoi 4.75 but it was still not enough to stop KKR.
KKR's batting unfolded the way it has been doing for some time now, with a lot of jitters and very little application in the face of a less-than-par score. Moises Henriques looked almost embarrassed when Nitish Rana chipped his full toss straight to Shahrukh Khan at cover; Shubman Gill was trapped plumb by a Shami delivery and Russell's knees were just not fit to complete a single at Morgan's behest. But KKR were also gifted a few chances. Rahul Tripathi thought he was gone when Gayle broke the stumps with his direct hit. And then in the ninth over, Tripathi survived a stumping when he was all over a nowhere close to the pitch of this googly after stepping out. His scratchy but effective 32-ball 41 helped Morgan overcome his nerves and settle down into anchoring the chase.
The end was brought upon swiftly as Morgan hit Deepak Hooda for a boundary and a six in the 16th over before Dinesh Karthik clattered two boundaries off Arshdeep Singh in the next over. With that win, KKR now have four points and are level with Mumbai Indians, Punjab Kings and Rajasthan Royals. Mumbai Indians have played a game less. With a change of venue, KKR can now focus on starting afresh. The batting, despite the hiccups, passed its first test on a challenging Ahmedabad pitch.
That KKR's bowling would come on top was expected. What wasn't expected was the ruthless efficiency with which they tied down Punjab Kings. KL Rahul plodded around for a 20-ball 19, Chris Gayle lasted one delivery, Deepak Hooda three more and Nicholas Pooran managed 19 off 19. The strike rates were appalling, with only Chris Jordan managing over 100 (166.66), that too because of the two sixes he hit in the 20th over. Mayank Agarwal was the only top-order batsman to get a start of sorts (31 off 34) but failed to consolidate it when Tripathi held on to a good catch at deep midwicket off a pretty pedestrian short delivery from Sunil Narine.
Nonetheless, KKR's spinners did their job. Between Varun Chakravarthy and Narine, KKR conceded just 46 runs in eight overs and accounted for 20 dot deliveries. Pacer Shivam Mavi, however, did the star turn for KKR, stealing 15 dots, conceding 13 runs and scalping the big wicket of Gayle, thanks largely to Dinesh Karthik's confident review. Replays showed a spike on UltraEdge when the ball passed the bottom of Gayle's bat during an uncharacteristically expansive drive off the first delivery he was facing, reducing Punjab Kings to 38/2.
The next 29 balls fetched 22 runs, highlighting KKR's bowling edge but also the slowness of the pitch at Ahmedabad. "The pitch is definitely keeping low," confirmed Chakravarthy later speaking to the official broadcasters. "It wasn't coming on to the bat nicely, and the dew started setting in the last five overs." That KKR still decided to tinker with the batting line-up despite this feedback makes them a difficult team to get. The four deliveries wasted by Narine (0) could have been used by Morgan---who was going through a lean patch---to get a hang of the pitch. The end could have been worse though. But for now, KKR stay afloat.