Suresh Raina displayed all the elements that have made him a T20 stalwart – strong bottom hand, powerful wrists, tactful strike-rotation, fierce ball-striking and handy offspin – to eke out a four-wicket win that breathed life into Gujarat Lions’ campaign. Their second win in six games temporarily lifted them off the bottom of the table. But this was no walk in the park as the scorecard suggests.
Walking in at No. 3, he watched Brendon McCullum, Dinesh Karthik, Dwayne Smith and Ishan Kishan fall. The Yadavs – Kuldeep and Umesh – had the batsmen tied in knots with flight and reverse swing respectively. At 115 for 5, Lions were far from ahead in a chase of 188. But Raina, reprieved on 1 by Robin Uthappa off Sunil Narine, held his shape, backed himself to bring out the big hits on demand and single-handedly razed down the target. He fell with Lions needing eight, and Ravindra Jadeja and James Faulkner did the rest with 10 balls to spare.
Narine gamble pays off
Narine proved his promotion up the order was a calculated gamble that paid off. Swinging through the line to length deliveries from Praveen Kumar and Faulkner, he smashed seven boundaries in 12 deliveries. Then in the third over, Basil Thampi came in for similar treatment off length deliveries as Kolkata Knight Riders raced to 44 without loss in three overs. It needed Raina’s introduction that took the pace off to break the stand as Narine toe-ended a slog to wide mid-on. By making 42 off 17 deliveries – his highest T20 score and most runs made by a batsman with boundaries in percentage terms at the IPL – he had left a platform for the in-form Uthappa and Manish Pandey to build on.
Mixing brute force – particularly on the pull – and fineness to ride the bounce and bring his deft touches to the fore against spin, Uthappa ensured the momentum given by Narine was sustained beyond the halfway mark. He was ably assisted by Gautam Gambhir as the pair turned focus on strike rotation.
Their game awareness against the slower bowlers – their 11 singles in 12 deliveries off Jadeja and Dwayne Smith – stood out. But the moment Jadeja erred by bowling flat, Gambhir swung through to hit his first six this season. It was the lack of pace that eventually got Gambhir, who top-edged a pull to Raina at midwicket. At 114 for 2 in the 12th over, Lions were staring at 200 plus. Uthappa’s half-century made it tougher for Lions, but they found a way through.
Against Uthappa and a batsman in top form, the kind Pandey has been in, and striking at close to 150, Lions needed a mighty effort to restrict Knight Riders to under 200. By conceding just four boundaries in five overs after Gambhir’s dismissal, Lions had done well to pull things back. Knight Riders were still handily placed at 154 for 2 after 17 overs. Faulkner had bowled out, and it was more than likely one of Praveen or Thampi had to complete their quota. Raina went with the bowler who has pace.
The first two deliveries were smashed for 10, but Thampi held his own and speared in a yorker from wide of the crease. He nailed Uthappa in front of middle, but wasn’t given by umpire Nitin Menon. He came back in to bowl three more yorkers, the last one angling into Pandey’s toes as he backed away to swing. It shaved past leg stump. Having been unlucky in three tries, he finally had luck smiling on him as he rattled all three stumps against Pandey in his next over with an inswinging yorker. He finished with 4-0-44-1, but his ability to bowl yorkers almost at will stood out.
Finch-McCullum charge puts Lions ahead
McCullum had been dismissed 20 times by left-arm spinners, the most for an IPL batsman. Knight Riders perhaps picked Shakib Al Hasan precisely for this and opened with him. But McCullum turbocharged to a 17-ball 33, while Finch swung his way to 31 as Lions raced to 62 for 1, ahead by 21 ahead on the Duckworth-Lewis method when a steady downpour halted play. When the match resumed, Knight Riders didn’t just have to contend with the in-form McCullum but also a greasy outfield, and had two big strikes in successive overs. McCullum flayed a length ball to deep cover in the sixth over, while Dinesh Karthik was deceived by a Chris Woakes delivery that gripped to take the leading edge to Gambhir at cover.
Yadavs pull things back
Kuldeep is a brave spinner. Not even the threat of two muscular batsmen looking to give him the charge deters him from tossing up the ball. He relies on dip and revs on the ball, and strangled Ishan Kishan with a string of dot balls. Ten deliveries had fetched four. Raina was fluent, but by blocking one end and escalating the asking rate, the onus was on Kishan to see it through. Instead, he tried a slog sweep and holed out to deep square leg . Then off the next, Umesh Yadav, held back until the 13th over, got a full delivery to tail back and sneak through Dwayne Smith’s defense. At 122 for 5, Lions needed a lower-order coup.
Raina in top gear
Raina has captained Kuldeep at Uttar Pradesh. But that the 22-year old found a way to nearly fox his captain was noteworthy. Luck was on Raina’s side as he played for the turn to a delivery that skidded back in to get a thick inside edge that shaved past leg stump. Up on 45 then, he went on to add 39 more to effectively close out the chase. (ESPNCricinfo)
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo