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Gambhir slams unbeaten 90 as Kolkata trump Hyderabad

Wisden India logo Wisden India 16-04-2016

Gautam Gambhir infamously began Indian Premier League 2014 with three ducks, but in the 2016 edition, he has traversed the other side of the spectrum, with three consecutive half-centuries.

On Saturday (April 16), his 90 not out off 60 balls helped Kolkata Knight Riders coast to an eight-wicket victory over Sunrisers Hyderabad at Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad.

After winning the toss, Hyderabad opted to bat, but were kept to 142 for 7. It was a middling total at best, and Kolkata’s openers cottoned on to that fact quickly as they gathered runs without going over the top. Gambhir and Robin Uthappa, instead, scampered for twos and though Gambhir tested the fielder’s arm on occasion, it was a tactic that worked in the side’s favour, adding to Hyderabad’s frustration.

It was also a reminder of how excellent the understanding between the two is. Neither is in the same mould as a Chris Gayle or a Brendon McCullum in terms of striking fear in opposition hearts, but both are quite reliable and trust each other completely when running between the wickets.

Hyderabad simply had no answers as the two put on a 92-run partnership, and the chase seemed an outright cakewalk until Ashish Reddy trapped Uthappa in front for a 34-ball 38. Looking to up the ante, Kolkata sent in Andre Russell next, but much to the delight of the Orange Army, it backfired sensationally as Mustafizur Rahman nailed a perfect yorker, knocking over both the stumps as well as the big Jamaican.

Normalcy, however, was restored soon enough as Gambhir took charge alongside Manish Pandey (11 not out) and got the side across the line with ten balls to spare.

That Kolkata’s batsmen could breathe easy during the chase was thanks to the bowlers, who had kept Hyderabad on a tight leash. The visitors had to make four changes to their playing XI due to an injury to John Hastings and food poisoning to Brad Hogg, but that hardly proved a stumbling block.

Morne Morkel hadn’t played any competitive cricket since early February and was excluded from South Africa’s World Twenty20 squad. Expectedly, he was rusty – bowling a no-ball to reprieve David Warner when on 2, followed by two wides. But, once the cobwebs were cleared, he prised out an outside edge from an even more ragged Shikhar Dhawan to give Kolkata their first breakthrough.

Losing wickets in clumps had hurt Hyderabad in their first match against Royal Challengers Bangalore, and once again it was the same story. Warner followed Dhawan back to the dugout, chipping Umesh Yadav to Suryakumar Yadav at cover for 13. The pacer then removed Moises Henriques to leave the home side reeling at 36 for 3 in the Power Play, with only four boundaries struck.

The slow start meant Gambhir could introduce Sunil Narine, playing his first game this season, as early as in the ninth over. The West Indies offspinner’s aura of invincibility may have faded since tweaking his action, but Hyderabad’s batsmen didn’t attempt to take him on.

However, the wicket of Deepak Hooda at the other end seemed to finally wake them up and change their strategy. Eoin Morgan swatted successive deliveries from Narine over cover, and the momentum began to shift. Kolkata, who barely had to exert themselves on the field for the first half of the Hyderabad innings, would have found the 44°C heat much less bearable as they were forced to scamper around the field.

Naman Ojha, too, joined the action as the runs went from trickle to steady flow. But, while Hyderabad took the total past 100 in the 16th over, Kolkata managed to claw back at the death. Morkel dismissed Ojha after a 28-ball 37, mostly thanks to the acrobatic teamwork of Andre Russell and Piyush Chawla at the long-on boundary, while Umesh snared Morgan for a 43-ball 51. The last four overs yielded 37 runs and three wickets and that ensured Kolkata were well on top.

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