The clash between Kolkata Knight Riders and Gujarat Lions on Thursday was expected to be a close one since both teams were coming off a defeat handed out to them by Royal Challengers Bangalore. But, Lions put up an excellent all-round show to first restrict KKR to a low total, and then bat well enough to chase down the same. The surface was a tough one to bat on, and Kolkata definitely found it so. They just could not get a hang of the conditions. The Lions bowlers exploited the conditions very well, and did enough with the bat to ease to victory.
There was a surprise hero for Lions in the game. Dwayne Smith is known more for his big-hitting ability than his medium pace bowling. But, on a surface where the ball was gripping, his bowling proved to be a handful. The Kolkata bowlers were clearly caught off guard by the amount of purchase Smith got from the track, and by the time they could figure out how to deal with the challenge, his spell had finished, and a magnificent one it was. Skipper Suresh Raina must be credited for reading the conditions well, and taking the call to utilise Smith's skills.
Smith's figures of 4 for 8 tell the story of his dominance, but it does now say the entire tale. Smith's wickets included some of big names in Kolkata's batting, and it completely threw Gautam Gambhir's men off balance. He sent back Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Shakib Al Hasan as well as the pinch-hitter Piyush Chawla. The wickets just did not allow KKR to settle into any sort of rhythm. Smith was well supported by Shadab Jakati, who kept things tight from one end, although the others were strictly okay.
Kolkata struggled because they just did not get themselves into any position to win. Gambhir may be a great IPL batsman, but his poor running skills again came to the fore as he ran himself out following a mix up with Uthappa. The latter himself disappointed, giving his wicket away after getting a start. The middle and the lower order also let them down as they could not rescue the team from a tricky situation -- Pandey, Shakib and Suryakumar all fell without making much of a contribution. Had it not been for Yusuf Pathan's strikes, Kolkata would have struggled to cross 120.
Although they were chasing a small score, the Lions still needed to bat well to ensure their victory was assured. To their credit, Kolkata's bowlers fought back well as both Smith and Brendon McCullum again failed under challenging conditions. But, Raina proved what the Lions missed in the previous game when they were thrashed by RCB. The Lions captain came up with an assured fifty to clinch the game for his side. There was good support from Aaron Finch, who again proved how flexible a batsman he is, buckling down to get his runs. In the context of how close the teams are in the points table, this was a crucial win.
--By A Cricket Analyst