Suresh Raina had shown glimpses of his wonted touch in the last game, during his eight-ball 23 against Royal Challengers Bangalore. On Friday, at Eden Gardens, he regained his mojo and steered his side to a memorable win, which had looked considerably bleak at one point. Before the 30-minute stoppage due to rain, they had lost Aaron Finch, after he and Brendon McCullum had taken them to 42 in 3.3. But the Kiwi kept rolling along and the visitors were 62/1 after five overs chasing 188 for victory. Then arrived the rain.
Upon resumption, the visitors lost momentum. McCullum perished and it became imperative from Gujarat’s point of view that Raina stayed till the end. When the Gujarat skipper eventually returned to the dug-out in the 18th over, his team was just eight runs away from the victory. Raina delivered at Knight Riders’ fortress with a match-winning 46-ball 84; his 30th IPL half-ton. Amid setbacks, from indifferent form to contract snub, a response had been long overdue. And Gujarat will hope the tide will turn from here. The best part of Raina’s batting was the way he attacked the bowlers early in their overs. A four and a six off Chris Woakes’s first two balls off his second over and a six from the first ball of Umesh Yadav’s second over were instances of smart batting. His approach put Kolkata’s bowling under pressure. And Raina was never going to allow the spinners to dictate terms.
Narine’s sledgehammer assault
When the surface is batting-friendly and the new-ball bowling is military medium, Sunil Narine is a good option to open the innings. The Trinidadian’s sledge-hammer assault beat the living daylights out of the Gujarat Lions seamers. Like every pinch-hitter, Narine wants to make space to free his arms. Gujarat seam attack played into his hands after Raina won the toss and elected to field. Praveen Kumar started off with a dolly down the leg side that was promptly dispatched to the deep square leg boundary. Kumar then offered length and Narine charged down the track and chipped him over mid-off, followed by another on-side swat to another hit-me delivery.
Australian all-rounder James Faulkner, in his first match of this IPL, conceded four fours to Narine in his opening over. Basil Thampi came, bowled a half-tracker to start with before over-compensating his length and giving away two fours and a six in the process. It was too easy for Narine and that no Gujarat medium pacer tried to get him out of his comfort zone by bowling yorkers, like Bhuvneshwar Kumar did here, was surprising.
Desperately seeking a breakthrough, Raina brought himself into the attack in the fourth over and dismissed Narine. The batsman backed away to a back-of-a-length ball and mistimed his pull to offer a skier to Faulkner at widish mid-on. Narine, however, did his job with a 17-ball 42. Kolkata were 47/1 after four overs. They were 65/1 at the end of Powerplay. And all said and done, Narine’s hitting in front of 50,000 fans—nine fours and a six—was spectacular.
To Gujarat’s credit, they managed to drag it back after Narine’s departure, Robin Uthappa’s half-century notwithstanding, Raina did a commendable job with the ball and should have had Uthappa as well early in his innings. But Finch spilled a tough chance at long-on. The pitch started to assist slow bowlers as the match progressed and Ravindra Jadeja kept it tight from his end, conceding less than eight runs per over. Dwayne Smith was even more economical. Faulkner, too, made a good recovery after his 17-run first over. He finished with 1/38 from four.
Kolkata were 109/1 after 11 overs. From there, 187/5 after 20 was a mini let-down which eventually cost them. But Uthappa played well, hold on to one end and at the same time, steadily upping the ante. Lady luck smiled on him alright; apart from the dropped catch, a very confident leg before appeal off a Thampi yorker was negated by the umpire. Uthappa looked dead in front, but those minor hiccups didn’t take away the credit from his 48-ball 72; his second half-century in this IPL. By the way, both Faulkner and Thampi bowled some good yorkers at the death.