Until the end of the 14th over in the chase, the match was done and dusted, safely headed in Kolkata Knight Riders’s favour. The scoreboard read 121 for no loss, Robin Uthappa and Gautam Gambhir had struck fluent fifties and with just 50 runs required off 36 balls, the side from Kolkata were expected to canter to victory chasing 171.
However, what unfolded over the ensuing 20 minutes was something that put the ‘I’ in implosion. KKR lost six wickets for just two runs. Shane Watson picked up three of those wickets in the 15th over and Pravin Tambe ripped the KKR batting to shreds in the very next, helping himself to the first hat-trick (of just two legal deliveries) of the 2014 season. On a hot Monday evening at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera, the Rajasthan Royals effected a riveting turnaround. On a wicket which did not offer much for either pace or spin, a combination of some hare-brained batting and simple yet accurate bowling did the trick for the Royals, as they eventually closed out a 10-run victory.
Back to the 14th over though, At this point, it seemed as if KKR had finally discovered their mojo. Uthappa, promoted to open the innings in the last match, carried on from where he had left off. The right-hander cut and drove powerfully, often stepping out confidently to the pacers to work them through the off-side. Gambhir, at the other end, was scratchy to begin with but stuck to his guns admirably, seeing out a difficult period before middling the ball sweetly. At the end of the sixth over, KKR were 50 for no loss — their best opening partnership this season.
Off the blocks in Style
After the power-play, the run-rate picked up even more. On a placid wicket, both Uthappa and Gambhir were largely untroubled and that showed in their strokeplay. The 28-year-old Uthappa brought up his half-century with a sweetly timed loft over long-off against the rather ordinary leg-spin of debutant Rahul Tewatia. Gambhir got to his half-century a couple of overs later and it looked as if the Royals’ vice-like grip on their home record was about to be loosened.
This was the moment that their longest serving Royals player picked to impose himself upon the game. Skipper Watson rolled out three expertly disguised slower balls, all nicely spaced out and accounted for Gambhir, Uthappa and the promoted Andre Russell. With the KKR apple-cart rocked, 42-year-old Tambe twisted the knife in deeper.
Having an ordinary outing till then, Tambe came on to bowl having conceded 22 runs off his first three overs. Kolkata had Manish Pandey and Shakib Al-Hasan out in the middle, two batsmen capable of salvaging the heavily rocked KKR ship. However, Pandey contrived to charge out blindly, finding himself almost halfway down the track even as Tambe just entered his delivery stride. The wily old man simply fired the ball down the leg-side and Pandey was too far down the track to even contemplate going back.
Yusuf Pathan, another batsman who has consistently flattered to deceive in KKR colors, did not disappoint. A full leg-break was bunted straight back to Tambe, who gratefully accepted the easiest of offerings. Tambe, though, saved up his best delivery for last. Ryan Ten Doeschate was served a vicious leg-spinner, bowled slightly faster through the air and catching Ten Doeschate on the crease. The ball kissed the Dutchman’s toe ever so lightly before hitting the bat and umpire CK Nandan raised his finger after due contemplation.
With 45 required off the last four overs, KKR still seemed to have a decent chance with Suryakumar Yadav and Al-Hasan at the crease. The Bangladeshi all-rounder managed to cream 15 off the 17th over, giving KKR 24 to get from the last two, briefly raising a hope. However, James Faulkner and Watson, the preferred death-bowling combo for the Royals dished out two clinical overs, not conceding a single boundary and whisking their side to an unlikely victory.