Robin Uthappa finds form and overshadows Bhuvi’s yorkers. Yuvraj’s cameo comes in a losing cause
Uthappa finds form
Robin Uthappa came to this IPL on the heels of a below-par domestic season. An average of 27.33 in the Ranji Trophy followed by only one half-century in the Vijay Hazare Trophy suggested batting decline. A slow start to the IPL didn’t help matters either. Uthappa needed a good innings to regain his confidence. A 39-ball 68 against Sunrisers Hyderabad at Eden Gardens on Saturday should act as a catalyst for revival. Credit to the Kolkata team management for keeping faith with Uthappa and retaining him at the No. 3 position. Promoting Manish Pandey could have been an easier option, especially after his scintillating 47-ball 81 not out against Mumbai Indians. But Uthappa was given the opportunity to find his form and today he played a little gem.
The Coorg boy has never been a marauder. His batting is very much reliant on timing, and after a lucky escape upfront — we would come to that later — he was in fine fettle. The first boundary was crucial, a clip past short fine leg off Ben Cutting. Wrong line from the bowler alright, but Uthappa’s bat-swing was impressive as also the way he picked length throughout his innings. Rashid Khan has already become Hyderabad’s trump card, his nascent IPL career notwithstanding. Here also, he removed Gambhir in his first over with a faster one that skidded off the deck. The Kolkata Knight Riders captain made room but missed the cut. It was unlike Gambhir, an outstanding player against spin. Uthappa chose to be circumspect against the Afghan leggie. His aggression towards the bowler had been restricted to a flat-bat six over long-on and a sweep to the mid-wicket fence that took him to his half-century.
Uthappa rather targeted the medium pace of Moises Henriques, audaciously walking across the stumps and sweeping a full ball over the backward square leg boundary. His manoeuvring against Bipul Sharma was even better. The left-arm spinner had foxed Pandey in the second ball of his opening over, only to see Naman Ojha miss an easy stumping. Uthappa brilliantly put the pressure back on the bowler. He deceived Sharma with an initial forward movement and got a half-tracker he had been looking for, sending it into the stands over wide long-on.
Ashish Nehra, too, was hit for back-to-back fours after Uthappa had been given not out on referral, with TV replays showing the ball had brushed his thigh pad. He got out in the 15th over after adding 77 runs with Pandey for the third wicket. But the hosts still had the upper hand. At 117 for three, they had been eyeing a total in excess of 180. But Bhuvneshwar Kumar jagged it back in the death overs.
The Bhuvi yorkers
Kumar has always found Kolkata his bogey team in the IPL. In 12 matches before this fixture, he had only one Powerplay wicket against Gambhir and company. Today, he made amends. Sunil Narine had revelled in his make-shift opening role against Kings XI Punjab, scoring an 18-ball 37 and setting up his team’s victory. Surprisingly, the Punjab fast bowlers didn’t use yorkers to challenge the pinch-hitter. Kumar was expectedly a lot smarter. He went around the wicket, fired one in the blockhole but missed his line a bit to concede a leg-bye. He corrected it in his next over and breached Narine’s defence as the batsman looked clueless against another fast yorker.
Kumar should have had Uthappa next ball; a lovely outswinger that went to Ojha behind the stumps off the face of the bat. Somehow umpire Anil Dandekar failed to pick the edge, or bat face rather, and Uthappa survived. The overall umpiring standards have been poor up to this point in this IPL, a serious cause for concern. Kumar returned for his second spell in the 18th over during Kolkata’s innings, removed a well-set Pandey with a slower delivery and then castled Colin Grandhomme with a peach of a yorker. He returned with three for 20 from four overs.
The afternoon heat made the surface a little dry and two-paced during Hyderabad’s chase. David Warner probably didn’t expect this when he elected to field after winning the toss. Also, Kolkata’s bowling discipline made things tougher for the visitors. Warner started to struggle for timing as the ball became older. He eventually departed with a below 100 strike-rate.
Yuvraj Singh threatened to disturb Kolkata’s applecart. Umesh Yadav bowled full, Yuvraj unleashed a glorious lofted drive for a six. Umesh altered his length, the veteran pulled it to the fine leg boundary. It was vintage Yuvraj. Chris Woakes had been taken to the cleaners as well, but with Hyderabad losing wickets steadily at the other end, and the asking rate climbing, Yuvraj hardly had the allowance to pick and choose. A Woakes off-cutter stopped a bit, took the leading edge of Yuvraj’s bat and went to substitute Rishi Dhawan at long-on. That was that, as far Hyderabad’s run chase was concerned. Kolkata won by 17 runs and stretched their winning streak against the defending IPL champions to eight matches on the spin.