In a format that is generally unforgiving to batters with strike rates below 100, KL Rahul almost ended on the wrong side. From watching his team lose to Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) by two runs last season to sitting through the ignominy of failing to score four runs in the last over against Rajasthan Royals last week, Rahul knows all about the barest margins going against him. He didn’t want to leave the job to anyone else. And so he bided his time as Shahrukh Khan hit a six and a boundary before surviving a contentious reversal of a catch by Rahul Tripathi, only to fall when Punjab Kings required four from four. This time though, Khan took the team home with a six that could have easily been a catch had Tripathi held on to it.
It shouldn’t have been as close as this. But on a slow pitch where KKR were adept at taking pace off the ball with Sunil Narine and Varun Chakravarthy, Rahul’s waiting game made sense. After 10 overs he was 28 off 30. After 12, he was 34 off 35. All this while Rahul stood mostly at the non-striker’s end, watching state mate Mayank Agarwal almost run away with the game before he drilled Chakravarthy to Eoin Morgan at cover. Nicholas Pooran threatened to blaze his way to the end but he too lasted seven balls before Chakravarthy nabbed him. It made Rahul cautious about switching gears, thumping Venkatesh Iyer for a six, picking Tim Southee’s slower for another before waiting for the loose balls.
Also pivotal to the match was how KKR’s run flow was stifled in the last five overs as they could add only 44 runs at the expense of four wickets. Eoin Morgan’s dreadful run continued as he moved across the stumps trying to flick Mohammed Shami behind square. But Shami’s dead-straight delivery hit his foot plumb in front of the stumps. Nitish Rana stayed true to his attacking self, unleashing a flurry of sixes but mistimed Arshdeep’s well-disguised slower that was caught by Agarwal in the deep. From that ball to the last of the innings---15 in total---KKR couldn’t hit a boundary.
Tim Seifert, playing his first IPL match for KKR, had too few deliveries to impress. Sensing his desperation to score quickly, Shami tried a good length delivery before resorting to a fifth-stump yorker that Seifert finally connected but couldn’t complete the run. Between Narine and Dinesh Karthik, the next eight deliveries were a struggle to put the ball away till Arshdeep knocked over Karthik’s middle-stump off the final delivery of the innings. KKR though, didn’t have to depend entirely on the last five overs to set up a challenging total.
Shubman Gill was done in early by a beautiful Arshdeep delivery that jagged back only slightly to sneak through his gates and hit middle and off but between Iyer (67), Tripathi (34) and Rana (31), KKR quickly wrested control of the innings. Central to their recovery was Iyer’s bold batting, taking heavy toll on the pace of Nathan Ellis and Fabian Allen’s slow left bowling to hit his second fifty of this IPL edition and anchoring a responsible 72-run partnership with Tripathi. Everything seemed to fall in place till Arshdeep and Shami came together to deny KKR a final flourish, conceding just 14 runs in the last two overs.