KOLKATA: It’s only during times of adversity is character truly tested. Take for instance Suresh Raina. Familial commitments and illness had culminated in a prolonged absence from the national and domestic scheme of things for the southpaw. On the Indian Premier League (IPL) front, the team that he had skippered to the top of the table last season — Gujarat Lions — were languishing at the bottom of the table after a string of losses this time around.
If that wasn’t enough, Raina and his men were, on Friday, up against a contingent that had doled them a ten-wicket-and-31-ball humiliation in their own backyard a fortnight ago. To top that, KKR had — in front of a crowd that got behind the home team with vociferous mexican waves — posted a daunting 187. There was even a brief squall of rain, which threatened to break the momentum of the Lions’ chasing efforts.
Raina, though, was far from withering under pressure. Though Brendon McCullum (31 off 15) and Aaron Finch (33 off 17) had unleashed brief spurts of willow-powered pyrotechnics to give their team a blitz of a start (42 in just 3.3 ovs), wickets tumbled at crucial moments to give both Kolkata and their fans at the Eden Gardens hope of pulling off a win.
But, Raina bade his time, grafting together a platform to launch both himself and his team, helping the Lions keep their run-rate in line with that of Kolkata’s despite their wheels starting to come off slowly. It was only during the 17th over — sent down by Nathan Coulter-Nile — that Raina finally decided to hit the NOS button with two fours and a six, bringing the winning equation down to run-a-ball. Though Kuldeep Yadav finally scalped the 30-year-old, his 84 off 46 had given his team the match — propelling them above Rising Pune Supergiant to second-last spot — and also fetched him the Man of the Match award, not to mention putting the Uttar Pradesh native back on top of the top run-scorers of IPL list (4,341).
Earlier, after winning the toss and inserting Kolkata in to bat, the sight of Sunil Narine striding in along with skipper Gautam Gambhir did come as a surprise, but not a jolting one. Against Kings XI Punjab, a promotion had earned him an 18-ball 37 and the Man of the Match award, and his team a comfortable eight-wicket win. Faith in previous numbers (Narine’s strike-rate in the Pakistan Super League this year was 181.25, second best in the event), or just an emboldened sense of confidence against a team they had obliterated recently, made Gambhir hand the strike to the Trinidadian.
‘Four, dot, four, four, four’ happened against James Faulker in the second over, and ‘dot, four, four, six, dot’ against Basil Thampi in the next. Narine fell for 42 off 17 to Raina soon after.