The skill of Gujarat Lions’ seam attack, led by Praveen Kumar, beat the depth of Kolkata Knight Riders as they jumped to the top of the table at Eden Gardens on Sunday. Praveen and Dhawal Kulkarni maximised the advantage of bowling under overcast skies by swinging the ball both ways to reduce Knight Riders to 24 for 4 by the end of the Powerplay. Half-centuries from Yusuf Pathan and Shakib Al Hasan lift the hosts to 158 for 4. Dinesh Karthik’s busy half-century and a string of cameos then sealed Lions’ seventh win with five wickets in hand and 12 balls to spare.
Praveen laid down the marker in the first over with a big inswinger, which zipped through Gautam Gambhir’s gate and nearly shaved the off stump. Suresh Raina strengthened the slip cordon and even added a leg-slip, perhaps teasing Gambhir to glance the ball fine. The Knight Riders captain attempted the glance, only to deflect the ball off the thigh to the stumps in Praveen’s second over. A ball later, he had Manish Pandey nicking behind for a duck. By the time Dhawal Kulkarni dismissed Robin Uthappa in a similar fashion in his second over, Knight Riders had lost more then two wickets in the Powerplay for the first time this season.
Praveen’s third over was a maiden and Suryakumar Yadav fell to a stunning catch from Raina at slip. Lions could have also had Shakib on 3 had Pravin Tambe, returning from injury, not dropped a tough chance at third man. Instead, Shakib combined with Yusuf to spark a revival – they put together an unbroken 134, the highest for the fifth wicket in all IPLs.
Yusuf did the early running, drilling chinaman bowler Shivil Kaushik for back-to-back boundaries in the 10th over. The introduction of spin marked a stark shift in momentum and the pair took 55 runs in six overs between Kaushik, Ravindra Jadeja, and Tambe. “When you have too may options, sometimes you get confused,” Raina said after the match.
By the time Dwayne Bravo came back for a second spell, Yusuf was in his groove and went on to bring up a half-century off 32 balls. Shakib had been on 24 off 32 balls, but shifted gears from Yusuf to pick up the mantle in the end overs. Shakib cracked 42 runs off his next 17 balls to finish with 66 off 49 balls, even as Yusuf was subdued by the tactful use of yorkers from round the wicket by Praveen and Bravo.
Shakib’s twin scoops off Praveen over short fine leg were the only blemishes in an otherwise pinpoint bowling performance. After taking the Man-of-the-Match award Praveen said that he relished bowling in the Powerplay as well in the slog overs.
The chase was a cruise, largely due to Karthik’s third half-century of the season. Behind the stumps and in front of them, Karthik is a hyperactive player. It shone though when he was nutmegged twice while keeping. It also shone through when he began his innings with three successive fours in the ninth over, off Brad Hogg. The first one was reverse-swept against the turn while the second was conventionally swept for four. The third was flicked through midwicket. He was dropped on 40 and 51, but was stumped a ball after the second reprieve.
The chase was set up by a 42-run opening stand between Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith. They scored seven fours and three sixes between them, but were dismissed by spin in a space of two overs. Raina was then bounced out by Andre Russell for 14 off 18 balls. Aaron Finch, who had not taken the field in the chase against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Friday, started off with a cover-driven four and launched Shakib inside-out for a six. He teed off further by hitting Piyush Chawla for three successive boundaries before being run-out for a 10-ball 29. Jadeja finished the chase with a slog-swept six over long-on.