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Smith, Raina too hot for Kolkata

Wisden India logo Wisden India 19-05-2016

Dwayne Smith’s career-best figures of 4 for 8 and Suresh Raina’s mature unbeaten 36-ball 53 on a green-tinged pitch were the highlights of the first-ever floodlit match at Green Park in Kanpur on Thursday (May 19). The full house included Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple Inc, and they were treated to Gujarat Lions’ six-wicket win over Kolkata Knight Riders that took them to the second position on the points table with one game to go.

Having elected to field first in the maiden Indian Premier League 2016 game at the venue, Gujarat did well to restrict Kolkata to 124 for 8, and then chased down the target in 13.3 overs.

The best thing about Smith’s performance was that he stuck to his brief of hitting the right areas and not doing anything fancy. Before he came on to bowl the fifth over, Shadab Jakati had already produced an athletic piece of work to run out Gautam Gambhir.

Robin Uthappa flicked Dhawal Kulkarni and set off for a run, but slipped. Jakati dived to his left at midwicket to stop the ball and produce a direct hit at the batting end in one motion, leaving Gambhir, who had already been dropped twice, stranded. It was the 21st time Gambhir got run out in T20s – the most in the format, going past Mahela Jayawardene’s tally of 20.

Smith needed just two balls to strike when Manish Pandey guided a length delivery outside offstump straight to Raina at slip. He struck again with the second ball of his next over when Uthappa, who made a good-looking 25 and crossed the 5000-run mark in T20s, was caught behind in almost identical fashion.

Piyush Chawala’s promotion to No. 4 did not yield dividend. He failed to judge the bounce of a short ball and was bowled. Then, Shakib Al Hasan’s upper-cut in an attempt to break the shackles gave Eklavya Dwivedi, playing his first IPL match, an easy catch at third-man.

Having reduced Kolkata to 61 for 5, Smith had done his job. Yusuf Pathan and Suryakumar Yadav resurrected the innings with a 41-run partnership, but just when they were accelerating, Suryakumar top-edged Jakati to fall for 17. Pathan, who made a run-a-ball 36, hit a full toss from Dhawal Kulkarni straight to Raina at cover as Kolkata’s hopes of crossing the 130-run mark evaporated rapidly.

Smith was caught behind off the first ball of Gujarat’s chase, trying to play a cross-batted shot off Ankit Rajpoot. Alive to the fact that the pitch assisted the seamers, Brendon McCullum swung his bat to hit a six in the first over itself to settle the nerves in the dugout. He, however, was found out by Sunil Narine’s faster delivery in the second over and trapped lbw. Dinesh Karthik found Morne Morkel’s inswinger too hot to handle and was bowled through the gate after playing a couple of pleasing strokes in that same over.

Even though Gujarat lost three wickets in the first four overs, Raina, who grew up learning the sport at this very ground, kept chipping away at the target with intelligent strokeplay. Whatever little pressure Kolkata had built was released in the seventh over when Rajpoot conceded 16 runs.

Raina got good support from Aaron Finch, who made a counter-attacking 23-ball 26 and put on 59 runs with his skipper in six overs. Of all the strokes that Raina played, the one where he hit Morkel for a six over cover with an inside-out shot to go back to the top of the IPL batting charts, surpassing Virat Kohli’s tally of 4002 runs, was the standout.

When Raina and Finch collided in the tenth over in an embarrassing manner, Gujarat needed just 28 more runs. Raina, who went on to bring up his first half-century in his first outing post fatherhood, and Ravindra Jadeja got the job done with 39 balls to spare, taking their net run-rate to -0.48 and dropping Kolkata to fourth position.

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