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Kolkata hit the top after two-wicket scramble

Wisden India logo Wisden India 24-04-2016

Kolkata Knight Riders’ successful run in the Indian Premier League 2016 thus far had been based mainly around the opening pair of Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa – the most successful association in this edition. It ensured that their middle order wasn’t put under pressure in four matches.

On Sunday (April 24), the rest of Kolkata’s line-up passed the test, if only just, to seal a nervy two-wicket win over Rising Pune Supergiants, who slumped to their fourth straight loss, at the MCA International Stadium. The victory took Kolkata to the top of the table, ahead of Gujarat Lions on net run rate.

Kolkata’s bowlers did brilliantly in the first 15 overs, but Ajinkya Rahane anchored the innings with a 52-ball 67 before MS Dhoni’s late blitz powered Pune to 160 for 5 after being inserted in.

Despite losing their openers early, Kolkata rode on Suryakumar Yadav’s 49-ball 60 and handy contributions from the lower middle order to reach 162 for 8 in 19.3 overs.

Chasing 161 on a slow surface is always tricky, and losing Uthappa and Gambhir inside three overs didn’t help Kolkata’s cause. While Uthappa was trapped in front by Albie Morkel off the first ball of the innings, Gambhir ran himself out, scampering for a non-existent second. But between the twin blows, Kolkata had raced to 31 – thanks to some enterprising hitting by their captain and Suryakumar, promoted to No. 3 in the absence of Manish Pandey, down with chicken pox.

Despite that, Pune’s bowlers kept up the pressure, as Shakib Al Hasan played on to Rajat Bhatia in the seventh over. But Suryakumar and Yusuf Pathan provided some stability. Together, they intelligently rotated strike, put away fours and sixes, and Kolkata edged closer to victory, their 51-run partnership taking the side past the 100-run mark.

But Pune were at their plucky best, stubborn and persistent in their pursuit of victory. While Bhatia (2 for 19) provided the crucial breakthrough, trapping Pathan in front for 36, M Ashwin vindicated Dhoni’s decision to persist with him in the death overs by trapping Suryakumar with a googly to end with 1 for 32.

With 42 required off 24 balls, Kolkata needed that one big over that would turn things firmly in their favour. Although Andre Russell struck a couple of massive sixes to briefly spark hopes of a late flourish, he fell mistiming a heave off Thisara Perera. R Sathish hit a six off Morkel but fell with ten required off eight balls.

In the end, it eventually boiled down to a matter of who kept his nerve. With seven needed off the final over, Piyush Chawla and Umesh Yadav ran a two before Perera sent Chawal back to redress the balance. But Yadav sealed the deal with a massive six over long-on.

For Pune, Rahane and Faf du Plessis played the first couple of overs with care, before Rahane became aggressive, a pulled six off Morne Morkel followed by a cracking shot to midwicket.

The early introduction of spin in the form of Shakib and Sunil Narine choked runs in the Power Play overs. Shakib even deceived du Plessis with a flighted one that crashed into the offstump.

Rahane took charge, prodding away to keep the runs coming. A couple of fours came off Russell, but the Kolkata spinners did well to avoid any hits to the fence. Giving Rahane company was Steven Smith, promoted to No.3 after Kevin Pietersen was ruled out of the tournament due to a torn calf muscle. Smith, one of Australia’s best players of spin, struggled a bit, but went along, punctuating ones and twos with the occasional biggie. He put on 56 with Rahane, but their burgeoning stand was broken when Smith, backing up too far, was run out by Sathish, coming in for Pandey in Kolkata’s XI.

The ploy to promote Perera backfired as the allrounder was guilty of playing his shots too early. The slowness of the surface was evidenced by Gambhir rushing the overs through his spinners, and introducing Yadav only in the 17th over.

Pune crawled to 100 for 3 in 15 overs, but accumulated 60 runs in the last five overs. As wickets tumbled around him, Rahane batted with greater composure. There was a brilliantly connected six off Chawla and a glorious pick-up over long-leg off Yadav. But just as he looked set to kick on in the slog overs, a return catch to Narine did him in.

Albie (16 off 9 balls) injected some life in to the Pune innings with a couple of massive sixes over deep midwicket, and Dhoni (23 off 12 balls) then tonked Morne for a six and two fours in the last over to help the hosts head in to the break with momentum on their side, that eventually didn’t suffice.

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