Gambhir re-discovers touch
It may only have been a Twenty20 game, the pitch may not have been the most taxing, and the bowling may not have asked too many questions, but the half-century from Gautam Gambhir at the Chinnaswamy Stadium on Thursday was still significant. Not only did it propel Kolkata Knight Riders to a campaign-saving win, it was also Gambhir's first noteworthy innings since concussion cut short his involvement in India's wretched tour of England.
The concussion caused blurry vision, dizziness and nausea, forcing him out of action for a month, even making him miss the qualifying phase of the Champions League T20. His first game on return was against Somerset on Sunday, where he picked up a golden duck. There was only marginal improvement in his next match, where he punched a catch to extra cover for 9 as South Australia pummelled the Knight Riders to a second defeat.
Against the Bangalore Royal Challengers, the Knight Riders decided to re-jig the top order, leaving out wicketkeeper and opener Manvinder Bisla and giving Australia's Brad Haddin his first game of the tournament. The move worked as Haddin clobbered his way to a 27-ball 42, which absolved his opening partner Jacques Kallis of the responsibility to play more expansive strokes.
By the time Gambhir walked in, the Knight Riders were well placed at 62 for 1 in the eighth over. He had a muscled shot tipped over for six at long-off early on, but barring that sliver of a chance for Saurabh Tiwary, Gambhir played an untroubled innings, not needing to resort to slogs despite scoring at a Twenty20 rate.
There were the pokes and nudges for singles square on both sides, his ease against spin was on display with a couple of boundaries against Syed Mohammad - one a down-the-track lofted straight hit and the other a backfoot punch past backward point - and by the time he accepted some freebies from Dirk Nannes in the 13th over, the Knight Riders were on course for their first win of the campaign.
He finished off with a bunch of sixes against Bangalore's main threats, Daniel Vettori and Nannes, needing only five deliveries to shoot from 34 to the half-century. Gambhir said the late surge was prompted by the Knight Riders' need to increase the net run-rate, which still remains negative though they beat the Royal Challengers with 15 deliveries to spare.
"We knew we had to win both the games if we had to stay in the competition, and that run-rate would play an important role," Gambhir said after the match. "We reached a stage where we could accelerate, for that we had to set the base and we did it perfectly."
Gambhir was also pleased with his batting effort, especially as the Indian team has a busy five months coming up, culminating in the high-profile tour of Australia. "This was very important," he said. "Any runs under your belt is important for your confidence, especially given the amount of cricket that is coming in the future, so it is very satisfying, most satisfying thing was that your runs help your side win."
The Knight Riders will be thrilled with the victory over Royal Challengers but still need a big win against the unbeaten Warriors on Saturday to stay in contention for the semi-finals, which adds to the importance of the half-century from Gambhir - their captain and the player around whom they built their team.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo