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Rejuvenated Gujarat return to the top

Wisden India logo Wisden India 08-05-2016

A combined effort from the Gujarat Lions batsmen trumped unbeaten half-centuries from Yusuf Pathan and Shakib Al Hasan as Suresh Raina’s men returned to winning ways with a five-wicket rout of Kolkata Knight Riders on Sunday (May 8) at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata.

Yusuf (63) and Shakib (66) helped Kolkata recover from 24 for 4 to post 158 without further damage, but Gujarat, led by a 29-ball 51 from Dinesh Karthik, made light work of the chase and strolled to victory with two overs to spare.

Gujarat’s chase resembled a relay race with each batsman running a little and passing the baton on to the next. It started on a fortuitous note when Brendon McCullum, on nought, survived a caught-behind appeal off Andre Russell in the first over.

Dwayne Smith, however, needed no such luck to get going. In typical fashion, he used raw power to find the boundaries but just when it seemed like he would take the game away, Shakib outfoxed him and bowled him with a wonderfully tossed up ball in the last over of the Power Play.

McCullum, who had been subdued until then, shone briefly smashing Morne Morkel for a four and two sixes in the next over but perished soon, mistiming Piyush Chawla to long-on.

The baton was passed on to Karthik, who grabbed it and held it almost till Gujarat reached the finish line. He started with three consecutive boundaries off Brad Hogg and within the next few overs showed why exactly he has been the backbone of Gujarat’s middle order this year.

Kolkata kept attacking with pace and used the short-ball strategy, perhaps to get Raina, but Karthik took the pressure off with some deft touches and attacking strokes. Raina did perish to the short ball – yet again – when he pulled Russell to fine-leg, but if Kolkata thought they could pull off a miracle, they were grossly mistaken.

Aaron Finch walked in as if he was in a hurry and hammered 29 from 10 balls to kill the challenge and take Gujarat back to the top of the table.

Kolkata’s was an innings of two halves that can be categorised as Before Yusuf and After Yusuf. The first half was an exhibition of pace bowling, with Praveen Kumar leading the way and Dhawan Kulkarni and Smith playing supporting roles.

The initial pace-burst left Kolkata reeling at 24 for 4 by the sixth over. The slide was started by Praveen, who got the ball to swing both ways, leaving Kolkata’s in-form top order dancing to his tune. Gautam Gambhir, bowled behind his legs after an inswinger brushed his thigh and rolled on to the stumps, and Manish Pandey, who edged an outswinger to the wicketkeeper, fell victim to Praveen’s wrist in the third over.

Kulkarni and Smith then found extra bounce from the surface to take out Robin Uthappa and Suryakumar Yadav respectively, the latter falling to a stunning one-handed leaping catch at slip by Raina.

Kolkata managed just 28 runs in the Power Play for the loss of four wickets – it could have been even worse had Pravin Tambe not dropped Shakib on three – but the arrival of Yusuf for Kolkata and spin for Gujarat changed the momentum. Yusuf started his innings with a smashing cover-drive and continued the momentum, lifting Kolkata in the process with a steady Shakib for company.

Yusuf and Shakib complemented each other to perfection but a part of Kolkata’s recovery was due to some questionable tactics employed by Raina. On a pitch that suited pacers, with four seam-bowling options and despite Kolkata’s initial struggles against the swing and bounce, Gujarat bowled six consecutive overs of spin that allowed Kolkata to snatch the initiative. Kolkata had managed just 43 runs in the first nine overs bowled by pacers but by the end of the 15th over, they had powered to 98.

Yusuf in particular showed no mercy to either the young Shivil Kaushik or the veteran Tambe and collected boundaries with brute force and deft touches, crossing his half-century in 31 balls. He slowed down a touch as the pacers returned but by then, Shakib had the freedom to go and he took over the mantle. He took a special liking to Dwayne Bravo, hammering him for four sixes in the last few overs to power Kolkata past 150.

It was a good effort from the duo, but the top-order collapse and Gujarat’s solid chase meant it wasn’t enough.

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