It wasn’t the packed Eden Gardens that their first home match called for but the new-look Kolkata Knight Riders whetted the appetite of their fans with a nine-run victory over Deccan Chargers on Monday.
A much-improved batting display saw the perpetual underachievers of IPL put up 163 for 4 in their 20 overs before they choked the Chargers’ chase. The visitors, losing early wickets, looked lost till some lusty hitting from Daniel Christian raised visions of victory. But they managed 154 for eight before the overs ran out.
For KKR, it was a performance that had them holding out a promise for Season 4. Jacques Kallis picked up from where he had left in the opener in Chennai to score another fifty, but it would have also pleased the Knights that everyone who came out with the bat chipped in. Kallis 53 off 45, Manvinder Bisla 19 off 21, Gautam Gambhir 29 off 18, Manoj Tiwary 30 off 21, Yusuf Pathan 22 off 15 made for an impressive collective show.
Later in the night, some good work in the field clinched it for Shah Rukh Khan’s men.
It all began with that battle within the battle that many had waited for. Kallis versus Dale Steyn, and the 25,000 on the terraces would vouch that it was unveiled even before the contest began when the South African allrounder stopped his compatriot in the middle of his run-up for the first ball of the match.
It was one sure way of earning the wrath of a pacer, and not a comfortable thought that the bowler is a 140-plus guy. But Kallis drew first blood, Steyn straying onto his pad and the first runs came from a glance to the fine-leg fence. With another boundary through covers, the opening over went for nine runs. With Manvinder Bisla edging Ishant’s first ball for a four to third-man and Kallis timing the last one through covers for another boundary, the first two overs produced 17 runs. KKR were on their way.
While Steyn and Sharma were expected to do some early damage, it was the advent of spin that saw the Chargers pull things back a bit. What Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha, coming on in quick succession, also showed was that a big chase was going to be difficult on the wicket. The ball turned appreciably and Bisla, frustrated that all the free-flowing stroke-making had come to an end, lost patience and his wicket. But the opening partnership, which also saw some fine running between the wickets, had produced 51 runs by then.
Kallis was in superb form, quickly adjusting to the changed circumstances and displaying the more delicate side to his stroke-making even as Gautam Gambhir, coming in at No.3 this night, was quickly into the groove, his comfort against spin soon coming to the fore. When Kallis fell, slog-sweeping JP Duminy to be caught at deep mid-wicket a ball after he had hoisted the spinner for a six over that region, Tiwary joined the skipper and was soon flaunting his feel for this format.
Duminy was sent soaring for two towering sixes by the Bengal skipper as the 15th over produced 15 runs. Gambhir was bowled trying to force the pace against Mishra, his dismissal almost a replay of the one in the World Cup final. But then, it was in the 17th over and there was still Yusuf Pathan in the pavilion. Pathan didn’t get to hit those customary sixes but managed four boundaries as the run-rate picked up.