IPL 2024: Knights ride over Sunrisers to final

Pacer Starc struck thrice before Shreyas & Venkatesh guided Kolkata home
Kolkata Knight Riders players celebrate a wicket during the IPL match against Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad (Photo | PTI)
Kolkata Knight Riders players celebrate a wicket during the IPL match against Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad (Photo | PTI)

AHMEDABAD: Sunrisers Hyderabad had reached the IPL playoffs largely because of Travis Head and Abhishek Sharma, their explosive openers. They have been the primary reason why the 2016 champions set as well as erased multiple batting records.

The deadly duo held the key as Hyderabad took on Kolkata Knight Riders in the Qualifier 1 here at the Narendra Modi Stadium on Tuesday. It all started with the coin flipping SRH’s way and their skipper Pat Cummins opting to bat first. It again put the onus on his openers to give the team a flying start. He was right as a good and brisk opening partnership could have swung the game in Hyderabad’s favour given the fact that the contest was a chance to earn a direct ticket to the final.

“We haven’t played a final for a couple of years, so the players are pretty excited,” said Cummins after the toss. But as the saying goes, ‘man proposes, God disposes’, the Cummins-led side was served a big jolt when KKR pacer Mitchell Starc castled Head off the very second ball of the innings. It was the second successive duck for the left-hand Aussie batter as a length ball from his compatriot Starc, which shaped away slightly, rattled his stumps.

All eyes were on Abhishek as he was again expected to ride the team out of the storm as he did a couple of days ago against Punjab Kings while chasing a 200+ score. However, right-arm medium pacer, Vaibhav Arora, didn’t allow the Punjab batter to settle, sending him back in the next over, thus reducing SRH to 2/13. In the meantime, Starc continued with the ball as he claimed wickets of the two successive deliveries inside the powerplay to push the Hyderabad franchise on the backfoot. First, he cut short the stint of the in-form Nitish Reddy and then bowled new batter Shahbaz Ahmed, who tried to dab a length ball outside off towards deep third only to edge it onto the stumps. The wicket meant SRH were reduced to 39/4 after five overs.

Before the contest, Starc was blowing hot and cold and was even benched once as he was proving expensive without much success. Signed for a whopping Rs 24.75 crore in the mini auction held in December last year (the costliest buy in the history of the IPL), hopes were high from Starc but the same could not be fulfilled as he went wicketless in the first two matches, giving away 100 runs from his eight overs. Coincidentally, the first game where he went for 53 runs from his four overs, was against Tuesday’s opponents.

However, he made amends in the next three outings claiming five wickets, including 3/28 against Lucknow Super Giants but was again plundered for plenty of runs in the following two matches giving away 50 and 55 runs, respectively with just one wicket. The indifferent form meant he was replaced by Sri Lankan pacer Dushmantha Chameera in the next game against Punjab. Captain Shreyas Iyer though said Starc had cut his finger in the previous outing but the bowler’s indifferent form might also be one of the reasons behind the move.

As luck would have it, Chameera too proved expensive, making Starc’s return possible in the playing XI. The Aussie then claimed six wickets in the next four matches including 4/33 against Mumbai Indians to help KKR beat the five-time champions at Wankhede for the first time after 12 years.

But as big players usually do, Starc reserved his best for the all-important Qualifier as his deadly opening spell broke the backbone of the SRH batting line-up before they meekly surrendered. After the early wickets, former KKR batter Rahul Tripathi (55 off 35) and Heinrich Klaasen (32 off 21) added 62 runs for the fifth wicket to provide some solidity in the middle. However, once that partnership was broken with Varun Chakravarthy claiming the important wicket of the South African batter, it was a matter of time before Hyderabad innings came to an end. Cummins, though, delayed the proceedings as he scored a 24-ball 30, taking the total beyond 150. But with every KKR bowler returning with at least one wicket, their opponents were bowled out for 159 runs in 19.3 overs.

In reply, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, playing his first match this season, gave a good start to Kolkata before Venkatesh Iyer (55 not out) and Shreyas (58 not out) took the team across the line in 13.4 overs.

Brief scores: SRH 159 all out in 19.3 overs (Tripathi 55; Starc 3/34) lost to KKR 164/2 in 13.4 ovs (Venkatesh 51 n.o, Shreyas 58 n.o).

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The New Indian Express