Gambhir anchors Kolkata Knight Riders to easy win

After a fine bowling performances, led by Umesh Yadav, Gautam Gambhir (90 off 60 balls) essayed an all-too-familiar role of a sheet anchor to perfection, scoring his 28th half-century in the Indian Premier League (IPL) to help his side cruise to an eight-wicket win over the Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Rajiv Gandhi International stadium on Saturday (April 16).

In the stifling heat of 44 degrees Celsius, David Warner’s decision to bat first seemed a logical one, even as Gambhir admitted that he was looking to put his opposition in. Warner’s stars seemed to be further aligned as he earned an early reprieve off just the second ball of the game, as Morne Morkel seemed to have over-stepped when he had the Sunrisers skipper caught at short mid-wicket. Morkel put his foot fault behind him quickly to send Shikhar Dhawan packing in the third over.

Warner’s attempt to make Knight Riders pay for their early error also lasted just 18 deliveries. Umesh Yadav, coming in for an injured John Hastings, flummoxed the Sunrisers captain with a well-disguised cutter, to dismiss him for 13. Warner made room to play on the off-side but was early into his shot and found Suryakumar Yadav at covers. In the unrelenting dry heat, Knight Riders had to sweat a little extra and ensure they did not stray in line and length on a wicket that has, over the years, favoured the batsmen. Umesh led the way by swiftly making another breakthrough, getting the ball to nip back sharply into Moises Henriques to trap him in front of the stumps.

Deepak Hooda, acquired for 42 times his base price of INR 10 lakh in the player auction, joined the procession shortly, as the Sunrisers were confronted by the familiar ills of their inability to stitch together a strong partnership in the middle. From 50 for 4 in the 10th over, Morgan and Naman Ojha addressed that issue and managed to arrest the slide by playing out a couple of overs before the England skipper pulled off two successive fours off Sunil Narine. The release point came in the 14th over off Chawla, which yielded 13 runs.

Tom Moody was out in the middle in the strategic timeout, spelling out instructions to the two batsmen. His words translated into action as Ojha belted Narine for a six, taking Sunrisers to 94 for 4 in 15 overs and forcing Gambhir to bring back Morkel for his second spell, perhaps an over or two early. The move did not impact Ojha’s resolve, as he carted a short ball over the third man for a six to bring up the 50-run stand, off just 36 balls, with Morgan for the fifth wicket. Having done the hard work, the Sunrisers duo was set to sprint to finish.

However, a fine fielding collaboration at the boundary line, a common feature in T20s nowadays, from Andre Russell and Piyush Chawla ended Ojha’s knock. In the same over, Morgan smashed a cracking six over deep mid-wicket to reach a resourceful 41-ball half-century, but fell to Umesh in the following over. The 67-run stand between Morgan and Ojha helped Sunrisers stretch their total to 142 and give the bowlers something to defend.

Against Kolkata Knight Riders’ assured batting line-up, however, it wasn’t enough.

Gambhir and Robin Uthappa were measured in their approach early on, not taking risks, as the runs came by at six an over. In the absence of senior statesman Ashish Nehra, Barinder Sran did a tidy job in his first spell, not letting momentum slip away early in the innings. Warner indulged in a bit of bowler merry-go-round, as Mustafizur Rahman, who made a superb debut against Royal Challengers Bangalore, bowled just the one over – the fifth – before being replaced by Karn Sharma, the leg spinner, in the seventh over.

The shuffling around did not deter Gambhir and Uthappa, as the two batsmen were in complete control of the chase, unfurling an odd boundary and keeping the scoring rate high enough to ensure they don’t fall too far behind. Gambhir may have slipped way down the pecking order as far as the national side is concerned, but a few aspects of the Kolkata skipper’s batting has remained constant – most noticeably, his ability to dance down the track and hoick a tweaker inside out over covers.

By the time Mustafizur returned to bowl the 12th over, Uthappa and Gambhir had wiped out half the target and, barring a collapse of dramatic fashion, Kolkata Knight Riders were on course to add a second victory to their side. Warner, in an act of desperation, turned to the military-medium pace of Ashish Reddy and that produced the first breakthrough in the 13th over as Uthappa trudged off LBW for a 38-ball 34.

An over later, Mustafizur produced what was perhaps the ball of the tournament so far – an inch-perfect yorker that did not just uproot the stumps but also floored Andre Russell to help the home crowd find their voice again. Yet, the sensational strike was too little too late as Gambhir continued to have a strong grip on the steering wheel, even if a couple of his passengers began to fall away.

The Knight Riders skipper carted two big sixes off Mustafizur’s final over and finished off the chase in penultimate over from Karn Sharma, with more than half the target coming off his bat.

Brief Scores: Sunrisers Hyderabad 142/7 in 20 overs (Eoin Morgan 51, Naman Ojha 37; Umesh Yadav 3-28, Morne Morkel 2-35) lost to Kolkata Knight Riders 146/2 in 18.2 overs (Gautam Gambhir 90*, Robin Uthappa 38; Ashish Reddy 1-14, Mustafizur Rahman 1-29) by eight wickets

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