The demands of T20 cricket are forcing players to add new dimensions to their game each season. Top-order batting is one aspect where teams have looked to improve. Focus has shifted from a big century to playing a rapid innings, thus asking players to shun their approach of building their innings. Analysts have come and exposed how eventual strike-rates in T20 games can be misleading. Most batsmen usually accelerate towards the end, but it is those who go hard from the outset that are worth their weight in gold.
At the Wankhede Stadium on Saturday, Prithvi Shaw provided an example of the latest version of a T20 top-order batsman the teams are looking for with a 38-ball 72. An attacking bastman, it is Shaw's natural game. But, the real beauty of IPL is how it is helping India's domestic cricketers become a better version. On Sunday night at Chennai's MA Chidambaram Stadium, Kolkata Knight Riders' Nitish Rana and Rahul Tripathi provided another fine display of what effective top-order batting is. The left-handed opener scored 80 off 56 balls, at a strike rate of 142.85, and Tripathi hit 53 off 29, at 182.75, to play starring roles in KKR's 10-run win against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
The top-order role now needs cricket acumen to outwit the bowler. It's not just stand and deliver with good use of the hands; it's about courage and conviction to use the feet and convert good balls into boundary balls. During their second wicket partnership of 93 runs in 8.2 overs, Rana and Tripathi provided a fine exhibition of all these qualities.
The advantage of taking risks throughout the innings was seen in the end. Sunrisers Hyderabad bowlers pulled things back admirably in the last five overs, restricting the scoring to 42 runs for five wickets. But the early assault of Rana and Tripathi had ensured the damage had been done.
SRH's Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Sandeep Sharma are the most successful bowlers with the new ball, having taken the most wickets in the powerplay overs in IPL alongwith Zaheer Khan. But they were not spared by Rana and Tripathi. The India pacer who was so brilliant in the just-concluded series against England was taken for 45 runs in his four overs. Sharma bowled his three overs for 35 runs.
Only the SRH spinners offered any resistance. KKR would have been looking at 200 but Rashid Khan and Nabi bowled well under pressure. Khan finished with 4-0-24-2 and Nabi returned 4-0-32-2.
In their chase, SRH had a massive setback when skipper and batting mainstay David Warner fell in the second over. The opener was done in by a beauty from Prasidh Krishna. It was left to in-form Jonny Bairstow and Mnaish Pandey to do the repair job. They put on 92 runs for the third wicket, taking the total from 10 for two to 102, when Pat Cummins broke the partnership by sending back the England batsman. Bairstow scored 55 off 40 balls to justify his selection ahead of Kane Williamson.
Abdul Samad hit some lusty blows in the 19th over, smashing Cummins for two sixes, but it was too little too late to cover up as SRH fell short by 10 runs. Pandey remained 61 not out.
Earlier, Rana was severe on Sharma, taking 28 off 11 balls against him, setting the tone for the innings with three fours in a row in the fourth over of the innings.
Tripathi was responsible for spoiling Bhuvneshwar's figures when he came on to bowl the 15th over. The KKR No. 3 hit a six and two fours, and with Rana also getting a four, 19 runs came that over. It capped the most dominating period for KKR when they got 57 runs in five overs, to be 126/1 at that stage with Rana 72 off 47 balls and Rahul Tripathi 39 off 24 balls.
Rana favoured the off-side at the start of his innings, taking four of his first six fours through the cover region. The left-handed batsman reached his half-century (off 37 balls) with a six, pulling Vijay Shankar into the stands, and got into a six-hitting spree. Three balls later, he dispatched Natarajan out of the ground to move to 57, outwitting him by shuffling to get inside the line of the ball to make room to pull it for six. His next scoring shot was also a maximum, a slog sweep to deep midwicket off offie Mohd Nabi. At his score of 65, pacer Sharma's low full toss was smashed into the LED screen on the square-leg.
It was Rana's fourth fifty in six innings as an opener in IPL. In his last six innings in IPL, his scores read 0(1), 81(53), 0(1), 87(61), 0(1), 80(56).
On expected lines, KKR opened the bowling with Harbhajan Singh given his success against David Warner. The first ball he faced, Warner offered a catch, but Cummins dropped the chance at backward point.
SRH skipper David Warner said: "I didn't think there were that many runs in that wicket. They adapted really well. We just mis-executed a little bit (with the ball). And the way that we lost two early wickets but fought hard through Jonny and Manish, was good. If you over-pitched, it came on a little bit. They had some height in their bowling attack, it helped with the cross-seam balls. Good momentum going into the tournament (with the batting), but plenty of games to come. Four games at this venue so we should be getting used to this square."