In this edition of the Indian Premier League, teams have had a set template. Preserve wickets before going hard at the death. Kolkata Knight Riders flipped that narrative in surreal circumstances to go fourth in the table on Saturday.
They once again lost their top-order for not too many - 42/3 after 7.2 overs to be exact - but that’s when Brendon McCullum, known for his out of the box thinking, sent in Sunil Narine. With Nitish Rana, Kolkata’s fifth opener this term, for company, Narine decided to counterattack with gay abandon. Sides usually become reactive after losing wickets early, but the two-time champions decided to go on the offensive.
Even though they were helped by some baffling captaincy from Shreyas Iyer - for starters Narine wasn’t buffeted by short-pitched bowling - the duo made hay. R Ashwin, one of Delhi's most economical bowlers, leaked 45 runs in three overs. It was similar numbers for Marcus Stoinis as well. By the time Narine fell, the partnership was worth 115. In the seven overs from the eighth to 15th, the pair scored 98 runs.
This assault allowed them to set a target of 195 — 20 runs above par in Abu Dhabi — against the second-placed outfit. The scoreboard pressure showed right from the start as Pat Cummins caught Ajinkya Rahane plumb first ball. After that, Varun Chakravarthy assumed centre-stage.
Knowing he had a big total to play with, something he hasn’t always had, he brought his bag of tricks to help Kolkata win by 59 runs and claimed the IPL's first five-wicket haul this year. The identity of the batsmen - Rishabh Pant, Stoinis, Axar Patel, Shimron Hetmyer and Iyer - was right up there in terms of quality. His figures of 5/20 showed why he came in with the moniker of 'mystery spinner' ahead of the 2019 auctions.
Bowling in T20 cricket is a matter of understanding angles, protecting the short boundaries and making the opposition play to your strengths. All the batsmen who perished tried to clear the boundary, but went against the spin. The Tamil Nadu bowler, who has several variations, backed himself by bowling the googly.
Even though the batsmen had no problems picking him, they were either targetting the short boundaries on the leg side or intent on clearing their front leg to go downtown. Most of them ended up hitting against the spin to be caught in the deep.
Brief scores: KKR 194/6 in 20 overs (Rana 81, Narine 64) beat DC 135/9 in 20 overs (Iyer 47, Varun 5/20, Cummins 3/17)