It is not very often the successful implementation of a tactic unsettles a team and lands the think tank confused. Well, Kolkata Knight Riders team management and skipper Gautam Gambhir have found out the bitter truth after they failed to chase down a victory target of 168 against Kings XI Punjab in a crucial Indian Premier League (IPL) game at Mohali on Tuesday.
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Gambhir has been praised for his decision to send his go-to bowler Sunil Narine to open the innings and make the most of the field restrictions in the first six overs of Powerplay. Narine was promoted to his new role in the game against Kings XI Punjab in Kolkata as Gambhir's regular opening partner and the in-form Chris Lynn was out with an injury. Narine caught the Kings XI bowlers by surprise and his 18-ball 37 and opening partnership of 76 in 5.4 overs meant Kolkata had a cakewalk.
Continuing in same vein
Ever since Gambhir has adopted the same strategy in all but the away game against Delhi Daredevils where Colin de Grandhomme opened with him. However, the Kiwi fell cheaply and Narine has continued in his role, mostly with success, in Kolkata's next eight games. Such was the impact of his onslaught that Gambhir decided to persist with Narine at the top of the order even when Lynn regained fitness. Gambhir was happy to drop himself down to No. 4 and the move worked perfectly against a dispirited Royal Challengers Bangalore as they put on 105 in the Powerplay to fashion an emphatic win.
Narine and Lynn got KKR off to a flier in their return fixture against Kings XI on Tuesday night and added 39 runs for the opening wicket off just 22 balls before the former was cleaned up by a slower one from Mohit Sharma. The Knight Riders stars who followed - Gambhir, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, de Grandhomme and Yusuf Pathan - failed to take them home despite the brilliance of Lynn, who smashed 84 off just 52 balls in another display of brutal hitting. Kings XI, who needed a win to keep their play-off hopes alive, found their heroes in young leg-spinner Rahul Tewatia, medium-pacer Sandeep Sharma and Axar Patel, who kept it tight with his left-arm spin and was simply sensational on the field.
At the end of the game a visibly upset Gambhir was asked by TV commentator and Australian legend Matthew Hayden whether he could have done something different with their batting order. Gambhir's reply was matter of fact. Narine was hitting the ball well and hence he felt there was no need to change the opening pair. However, Gambhir was quick to add that they might try out a new combination in the next game, which is a crucial fixture at home against Mumbai Indians and the outcome could go a long way in deciding whether Kolkata will finish in the top two.
Narine has scored 212 runs off 113 balls as opener at a stunning strike rate of over 187. He also equaled the record for the fastest IPL fifty off 15 balls against RCB. However, the key point which Gambhir and the KKR team management should realize is that they have got the batting depth to win games by adopting a more conventional approach, that is employing either Gambhir or Uthappa to partner Lynn, followed by the specialist batsmen. Right now it's all hunky-dory in the Powerplay or till Narine is there at the crease and the rest of the batsmen struggle to keep pace. This was the case in the return match against Gujarat Lions, in the home game against RCB and again on Tuesday night when Lynn was in a different class altogether. Moreover, a specialist batsman, once he is set, will go on to play a big knock more often than not and the team will benefit from it.
Is Gambhir and Co. listening? The game against Mumbai on Saturday could provide a clue ahead of the play-offs.