Synopsis: Parag comes of age. Karthik’s effort goes in vain.
Parag comes of age
Eden Gardens witnessed the coming of age of a teenager. At 17 years, Riyan Parag played an innings of such maturity that when he got out after scoring a game-turning 47 off 31 balls, even die-hard Kolkata Knight Riders fans were applauding. Chasing 176 for victory, Rajasthan Royals had been playing catch-up. After an electric 53-run opening partnership between Ajinkya Rahane and Sanju Samson, their scoring graph was on a steady dip. Sunil Narine found his groove and removed Rahane and Steve Smith in quick succession. But the West Indian dropped a simple caught-and-bowled chance when Parag was yet to open his account.
Still, the visitors lost wickets at regular intervals until Parag found an able ally in Jofra Archer. They added 44 runs in 21 balls for the seventh wicket and turned the game on its head. Parag’s back-end charge spoke volumes for his cricketing intelligence. He smoked Prasidh Krishna for a four and a six in the 18th over to bring the equation down to 18 runs off 12 deliveries. Then, he smashed Andre Russell for a six. It was a bit tragic that he was out hit-wicket next ball. By then though, Royals had victory firmly in their sights.
Spare a thought for Archer as well, who scored 27 not out off 12 deliveries. With nine runs needed in the final over, Archer hit a four and a six off the first two balls to seal a memorable three-wicket win for his team.
After losing five matches on the spin – it became six on Thursday – Dinesh Karthik chose a couple of training sessions at an academy in Mumbai under Abhishek Nayar rather than turning up at the nets at Eden Gardens. And on Thursday, Karthik looked a different player. He came in at No. 4, paced his innings brilliantly and scored 97 not out off 50 balls. Over 80 per cent of his runs were scored through hits to the fence and beyond — seven fours and nine sixes.
Karthik hasn’t been his usual self this term. He had only one half-century coming into this match. He was pushing himself down the order. His batting had been fettered. Maybe, the World Cup squad selection was playing on his mind. And after he made the World Cup party, criticism came from fans and some pundits alike, as Rishabh Pant missed out.
With KKR on a slide, pressure mounted on the skipper. Russell’s batting position, defensive captaincy, picking a Mumbai academy over Eden for the preparation for a must-win game — it was brickbats galore from all sides. Karthik needed to make a statement. He silenced his critics.
Royals finally brought in their fast bowlers at the expense of Dhawal Kulkarni’s military medium pace. That it was Varun Aaron’s only second game of the season beggared belief. Even more baffling was that Oshane Thomas – he made a serious impression during West Indies’ tour of India last year — had to wait this long to make his IPL debut.
Aaron castled Chris Lynn in the very first over of the match with a fast, nip-backer. In his third over, he cleaned up Shubman Gill with a beauty. The ball broke back off the seam and went through the gate. Karthik had to do the rebuilding job. He took his time and picked his targets. Karthik actually was struggling a bit against the incoming delivery during the early part of his innings. A Shreyas Gopal over helped him break the shackles. Three fours and a six against the leggie — he benefitted from a misfield too — upped his strike rate.
More importantly, Karthik regained his confidence. A six off Archer, the way he clipped it over long leg, proved that. Narine, at No. 5, fell prey to a mix-up and KKR were still going under seven runs per over.
Much to the hosts’ relief though, Royals had Jaydev Unadkat. The left-arm seamer is always prone to bowling two or three ‘hit-me’ balls per over, his Rs 8.4 crore price tag notwithstanding. He stuck to his habit. Unadkat bowled into Karthik’s pads and the latter happily flicked it over the deep square leg boundary. Against the searing pace of Thomas and Archer, however, Karthik very intelligently waited for the loose deliveries. When Thomas over-stepped and offered a free hit, the KKR captain played a lofted drive over long-on for a six. When Aaron offered width outside off, Karthik smashed it over deep point. In the penultimate over, as Archer bowled short, Karthik stood tall and hit a gorgeous six over deep extra cover. Archer then bowled a slower delivery and conceded another maximum.
In the last over, Karthik rolled over Unadkat. Two sixes and a four; he was collecting runs for fun. Such was his impact that KKR scored 48 runs in the last three overs to take their total 175/6. It was even more significant because Russell had a rare off day, as he scored a run-a-ball 14 after surviving two dropped chances. Unadkat, by the way, finished with 1/50 from four overs.