Royals sizzle and fizzle: After a 25-ball sterility, when Jaydev Unadkat eventually hit Shivam Mavi for a four, the whole stadium cheered. Even a strong KKR-supporting Eden Gardens crowd had been taken aback by Rajasthan Royals’ spectacular slide. The visitors were 68/1 after the Powerplay, hitting 10 fours and three sixes – 10 boundaries on the trot at one point. They had crossed the 50-run mark in 22 balls. In the 14th over, however, when an under-performing Ben Stokes departed, Royals were reduced to 107/7. They were eventually bundled out for 142 in 19 overs, presenting a perfect opportunity to Kolkata Knight Riders to edge closer to the Playoffs. The two-time champions are now just a win away from securing a top-four berth.
Kuldeep Yadav triggered the Royals’ collapse with a four-wicket haul. But we would come to that later, because the Royals pressing the self-destruct button was the real highlight of the game. Their batting meltdown also attested the team’s over-dependence on Jos Buttler.
For a change, the Taunton boy didn’t score a half-century on Tuesday, getting out for 39 off 22 balls. Twenty-eight of those runs came in one Mavi over, as he toyed with the young fast bowler. He slapped the short ball, scooped a yorker-length delivery over fine leg for a six, ramped a fuller stuff over the ‘keeper’s head. Buttler was looking unstoppable on the day he earned a recall to the England Test squad for their upcoming series against Pakistan. Once upon a time, the English cricket hierarchy used to take the IPL with a pinch of salt. Now performances in the tournament bring players back to the Test fold. That, though, is a different story altogether.
Coming back to the Tuesday’s game, the 28-run over on the heels of a 19-run over bowled by Prasidh Krishna skyrocketed the Royals run rate. The visitors were nicely set up to take the game away from KKR. But they chose to implode instead.
After Rahul Tripathi was bounced out by Andre Russell, Ajinkya Rahane came and typically got stuck. With Buttler around though, he could have played at his own pace. But the Royals captain decided to reverse sweep a Kuldeep googly from around the leg stump. It felt like a philharmonic artist trying his hand at grunge rock. Rahane wasn’t good at the improvisation and heard the dreaded sound of leather hitting timber. He continues to struggle in white-ball cricket. The Royals’ post-mortem of this game would hold their skipper accountable for the indiscretion. Steady batting was all they needed after an electric start.
Yadav’s redemption: Eden Gardens is usually a great leveller. Ask Stokes, and he would nod in the affirmative. After conceding four sixes here in the final over of the World T20 final and sitting disconsolately on his haunches, he came back to win the Man of the Match award in an ODI against India at this venue a few months later. In KKR’s last home game, Kuldeep had been taken to the cleaners by Ishan Kishan, with four sixes on the spin in one over. It was an affront to the chinaman bowler’s reputation. Kuldeep redeemed himself brilliantly on Tuesday.
He made one jump a little more on Buttler to have the opener caught at short third man, playing a reverse sweep. Buttler, unlike Rahane, is a natural with regard to playing the shot. But he couldn’t handle the extra bounce, departing just 11 runs away from becoming the first batsman in IPL history to score six fifties on the bounce.
Kuldeep’s next scalp was Stuart Binny, who failed to read a googly and was stumped by Dinesh Karthik. Stokes’ wicket completed a four-wicket haul. The 2018 IPL’s costliest auction buy had been struggling to read Kuldeep out of the hand. He went for a flick but the ball turned, took the leading edge and went to the bowler for a return catch. Out of form, Stokes tried to bide his time at the crease here. But stifling the attacking instincts didn’t help. Kuldeep didn’t mind. He finished with 4/20 from four overs.
In between, Sunil Narine removed Sanju Samson, who couldn’t read a skidder. An excellent review secured the dismissal.
KKR saunter to victory: KKR took an aim at upping their net run rate, which in the final analysis might prove to be crucial. Narine went gung-ho at the top, being aided by K Gowtham’s introduction with the new ball. Two sixes and as many fours in the very first over of the chase significantly reduced the chance of a Royals fightback. Gowtham taking the new ball against Narine wasn’t a smart move, given the left-hander’s vulnerability against fast, short-pitched stuff.
Stokes came and accounted for Narine with his second ball, digging it short outside the off stump. The England all-rounder, who, along with Buttler, will now bid adieu to the IPL because of his Test commitments, had an excellent game with the ball, taking 3/15 in four overs.
But KKR just needed a couple of sizable knocks to get over the line. Chris Lynn and Dinesh Karthik provided that, scoring 45 and 41 not out respectively. KKR won by six wickets with two overs to spare.