Knight Riders bowlers silence Mumbai
The sight of Harbhajan Singh clapping and giving high-fives summed up the satisfaction of a job well done. Mumbai Indians had performed admirably to keep Kolkata Knight Riders down to a gettable score, and their batsmen, for the bulk, had the form behind them to complete the task. But they were conquered by a determined bowling attack. In the limited time available during the innings break, some of the Knight Riders bowlers made full use of the practice wickets, tried to shed any rustiness, knowing there'd be little room for error when the chase began.
Such was their excellence with the ball that the hosts' batting was comprehensively outclassed, the memory of two consecutive bowling debacles was overcome and Knight Riders' passage to the playoffs was all but ensured.
Among those bowlers warming up during the break was L Balaji, who was to later admit the Wankhede track was one of the best on offer for seamers this season. The key to his early thrift was his late away movement that confounded Herschelle Gibbs multiple times, drew scattered applause from a sporting Mumbai crowd and contributed to a quiet opening that helped Knight Riders' three specialist spinners - used for the first time together by the team this season - perform without too much pressure.
Pace was Knight Riders' weak link in their previous two defeats but Balaji and Jacques Kallis put up a redeeming display. Their return spells were just as crucial. Brought back to contain an enterprising Dinesh Karthik, Balaji may have been lucky in having him caught at fine leg. Likewise for Kallis, when he had Kieron Pollard caught-behind while hooking, but a slower bouncer was a worthy ploy against a batsman known for ruthlessness against length deliveries. Dwayne Smith's first-ball duck next up put Knight Riders in complete control but a critical feature of Knight Riders' success with the ball was the taming of the Mumbai Indians top order by spin.
Shakib Al Hasan, replacing Marchant de Lange for this match, set the tone, though he and Sunil Narine, while achieving the same aim - stifling the Mumbai Indians batting - went about their work differently. While Shakib doesn't turn the ball much, Narine imparts tremendous spin. Both vary their pace expertly, but Narine's high trajectory, ability to turn it both ways and the batsman's difficulty in deciphering him off the hand gives him that added advantage.
Shakib took on the challenge first, opening the bowling, and was accurate. He didn't give Gibbs any room, instead chased the batsman as he tried to make way to open up. While Gibbs fell playing across the line to Iqbal Abdulla after a frustrating outing, a quicker one from Shakib accounted for the in-form Ambati Rayudu in his second spell. He should have had Sachin Tendulkar, who was deceived by one that went with the arm first ball but Narine continued the mystery against the crowd favourite when he came on.
Tendulkar faced just six balls from Narine, smacking him for four once but was beaten twice, the second time by a ball that turned from outside off towards leg, clipping his thigh and then taking out the off stump as he tried to cut. Tendulkar had settled in well by then, in the 11th over, but the required-rate too had crept up to above eight. The cautious opening - the Powerplay yielded just 26 for the loss of Gibbs - that gave the visitors an early heads-up was to invite criticism from Harbhajan during the presentation. The clapping and high-fiving had changed hands.
Siddhartha Talya is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo