Hyderabad: It’s hard to imagine Kolkata Knight Riders taking a false step these days. Their hunger for success and ability to raise the bar is sure to redefine the standards. Gautam Gambhir’s men have certainly shown promise of adding more grandeur to the festive season in Bengal.
Up next for them will be the Hobart Hurricanes, in the CLT20 semi-finals. And going by their rampaging form, one is tempted to think of them as one of the teams in the title-clash, in Bangalore, on Saturday.
They steamrolled the Dolphins in an inconsequential Group A match on Monday. Victory by 36 runs seemed like a mere formality.
If Robin Uthappa showed the way at the top of the order, Sunil Narine (three for 33) once more proved why he is regarded as the best in this format. With young Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla providing excellent support, the combination is sure to make things tougher for the Hurricanes.
The conditions weren’t to the bowlers’ liking on the day with the dew playing its part. But Narine stuck to his task and ultimately reaped the rewards.
Uthappa’s form has made a huge difference to their fortunes in their winning streak 13 matches and counting. He has scored 605 runs at a strike rate of around 150 during this period. Not only has he given the innings momentum, more importantly, he has set the platform for the others to launch the offensive.
On Monday, though, the others didn’t have to pitch in with their contributions. It was an Uthappa and Manish Pandey show.
The pair added 153 runs in an unbroken third wicket partnership that more or less decided the course of the match. The Dolphins didn’t have the firepower to scuttle the Knight Riders’ hopes.
The 188-run target was stiff considering the conditions and the Dolphins’ performance in the tournament. They did try to end their campaign on a high, but the limitations against quality spinners ruined their hopes.
Uthappa’s unbeaten 85 off 55 balls was a perfect example of his determination and his appetite for a fight. Runs came in a hurry silken drives, boundaries taken off pads and cuts dispatched through point.
Pandey, on the other hand, showed glimpses of his 94-run knock in the IPL VII final four months ago. Having survived twice, after the bowler failed to hold on to his fierce strikes, he clobbered the insipid attack for five boundaries and fives sixes during his 76 not out off 47 balls.
A cut off Andile Phehlukwayo that landed flat over the deep point boundary and fetched him his first six will certainly stand out in memory.
Pandey showed great improvisation in adjusting to the bounce after having come a long way forward. That over, eighth of the innings, fetched the Knight Riders 17 runs.
Having already booked their place in the semi-final, this was a chance for the Knight Riders to experiment. The urge to see how their batsmen perform when batting first prompted Gambhir’s decision at the toss.
This was their only chance to test the team in different situations ahead of the semi-finals and, probably, the final, and they were keen to make the most of it. The Knight Riders had successfully chased in their three previous games.
The Dolphins bowlers did peg back the Knight Riders in the first five overs with Kyle Abbott, Craig Alexander and Robbie Frylinck troubling the batsmen with pace and bounce.
Gambhir, leading a T20 side for the 100th time, was lucky twice when he fended off his gloves and the ball landed in no-man’s land. But his joy and relief was short-lived when he was bowled through the gate in Frylinck’s first over.
Jacques Kallis was also dismissed in similar fashion after cutting Alexander over slip for a six. That was before Uthappa and Pandey reduced their bowlers to mere mortals.
None of them managed to live up to their early promise in the death overs. Still, Abbott has shown much promise in this tournament and could come in handy in this format.
His smart angling of yorkers did cramp the batsmen. But all that faded in the face of the Uthappa and Pandey show. The challenge of Phehlukwayo (37 off 18 balls) and Khaya Zondo (32 off 25 balls) wasn’t enough during their chase as Narine spun his magic to scuttle their chances.