Kolkata Knight Riders changed the track but not the tune. On a new wicket, adjacent to the slow turner they had played five home matches on, it was the same go-slow policy that had served them well.
Chennai Super Kings saw it late. Too late.
Winning a good toss but, rather bafflingly, deciding on first strike, MS Dhoni & Co. managed a meagre 114 for 4 in their 20 overs. It left the Knights with a fantastic opportunity, and they made sure they didn’t squander it this time as they had a month ago in Chennai.
On Saturday, the Knights had garnered 61 for 2 in 10 overs when the rain came down and were declared winners by 10 runs on the Duckworth-Lewis method. With the match starting an hour late, and the threat of rain hovering above, the Knights knew what they had to do – score at a decent pace, a task that wasn’t too hard in the light of the excruciatingly slow start by the Super Kings.
The Knights had clearly benefited from visitors’ decision to bat first on a day when there was clear and present danger from the sky. The time the visitors took to come to terms with the pace of the wicket would also suggest that the decision at the toss was a grave error in judgement.
Tied down by some tight bowling and a wicket where the ball was reluctant to come on to the bat, the Super Kings were a disastrous 15 for 2 when the six overs of powerplay ended and it was left to Subramaniam Badrinath to drag them to a three-figure total with a 41-ball 54.
Brett Lee, who had left a little red-faced after bowling a 22-run last over in Kochi on Thursday, came back with a vengeance, conceding just six runs in his opening spell of three overs and then sending down an 18th over that produced just two. There was no questioning the class. Iqbal Abdulla, the second highest wicket-taker of IPL 4 so far, got his chance to open the bowling again, and showed just how much he has matured through these 10 matches with clever variations that kept the batsmen guessing.
When Mike Hussey and Murali Vijay began on an unusually quiet and more studied note, it was almost as if the Super Kings had worked out a total for this pitch. But when the first few overs yielded a pittance, and the slowness of the wicket saw Vijay departing in a soft dismissal, the pressure built. It claimed the in-form Suresh Raina as he tried to force the pace and, suddenly, the 50,000 at the Eden Gardens sniffed a sweet crumble as evening snacks.
It was Badrinath who took the initiative, stepping out of his comfort zone to improvise and take the fight to the Knights. He hit the first boundary of the innings, which came as late as the 10th over but what turned out to be a six over long-on off Yusuf Pathan could have actually brought his downfall had Jaidev Unadkat, positioned on the rope, not lost the ball in the backdrop of the crowd.
Badrinath, then on 9, would survive another chance when on 29, Unadkat again the culprit as he spilled the chance at mid-wicket in the 13th over. Pathan was again the bowler to suffer.
Badrinath, who completed 1,000 IPL runs during his innings, and Hussey put on 34 runs for the third wicket in a little over five overs, a dramatic improvement in the run-rate under the circumstances, before the Aussie pulled one straight to Eoin Morgan at mid-wicket.
Badrinath, comfortable in his orthodox style, has been reinventing himself this IPL and he continued with his fine run on Saturday as he and Albie Morkel stitched together another crucial partnership. The fourth wicket yielded 65 in the last nine overs, ending on the final delivery of the innings as Badrinath was run out with Mark Boucher showing some lovely work with the big gloves.
By then the Super Kings had recovered somewhat from that disastrous start but there were just not enough on the board. Just six boundaries and two sixes in an entire T20 innings told its own tale.
Morgan, who came into his own in the losing cause in Kochi, smashed Morkel for a boundary through point in the very first over as the Knights began the chase but the manner of his dismissal soon after would have sent a chill through the KKR camp. Trying to cut what was R Ashwin’s first delivery in the next over, he played onto the stumps off the bottom edge. The slowness of the pitch had got to KKR as well.
Skipper Gambhir, always willing to lead from the front, would have calmed nerves as he lofted the first ball he faced, inside-out, to the cover fence. But, then, when he fell caught brilliantly at point by Sri Lankan Suraj Randhiv as he failed to get hold of a lofted drive, there was danger of Chennai doing to the Knights what they had done to them earlier.
But Kallis and Manoj Tiwary, both in very fine form this IPL, ensured there were no more hiccups before the rain came back to ensure a wet end.