By the time legspinner Rahul Tewatia came on to bowl on Tuesday night, Kolkata Knight Riders had made their now-customary dash in the Powerplay to score 61 for 1 in a chase of 168. The seamers went for runs and, as is often the case, damage-control duties were assigned to Axar Patel, who bowled a tight seventh over. Tewatia was introduced with 104 runs needed in 13 overs. It was his first match in this year's tournament, his previous appearance in the IPL having come in 2015.
Tewatia began by conceding only four runs in his first over and did even better in the second. First, he tempted Gautam Gambhir into slogging a ball deep mid-wicket's throat before snaring Robin Uthappa first ball courtesy Axar's brilliance in the field. After Uthappa swatted a googly uppishly, Axar hared to his right from deep mid-wicket and flung himself to complete the catch.
Knight Riders managed only two boundaries between the seventh and 14th overs, with Tewatia conceding one of those in his spell of 4-0-18-2. The seamers eventually got back their mojo and, led by Mohit Sharma and Sandeep Sharma's cold precision at the death, ensured Kings XI clinched the game by 14 runs to keep their playoff chances alive. Mohit, who was the Man of the Match for his returns of 2 for 24, credited the spinners, especially Tewatia, for establishing a stranglehold in the middle.
"The way our spinners bowled in the middle. This was the first match of the season for Rahul Tewatia and he hasn't played too many other IPL games, overall either. His spell was the turning point," Mohit said after the match. Axar and Tewatia later revealed to iplt20.com their plan to bowl slower through the air and deprive the batsmen of runs.
"During the strategic time-out we had a discussion about how the pitch was playing. So you [Axar] had told me that there was some turn on offer for slower deliveries," Tewatia said. "To Gambhir, first I bowled some sliders, and then I planned to bowl full-pitched googly. If he went to hit it then there was a chance to get a wicket. You had said that the game can change if we get one wicket."
Axar said he realised that he had to change his pace as the quicker deliveries were skidding on to the bat well: "To Gambhir, he's always ready to play the cut and I wasn't giving him any room at the stumps. I think he got frustrated when he didn't get any runs."
While Kings XI had a decent cushion of 37 runs to defend in the last three overs, the biggest obstacle in their path was Chris Lynn, who eventually finished with 84 off 52 balls. After Matt Henry dismissed Manish Pandey with a slower one off the first ball of the 18th over, Lynn was run-out next ball after attempting a risky second run. Kings XI wrested control of the match thereafter as Mohit and Sandeep conceded only 14 runs off the last two overs.
"Dismissing Lynn at any point in the 20 overs is important. The way he bats in T20s, it's like he's playing proper baseball," Mohit said. "He never misses out on a loose ball and whenever a bowler gets his wicket, it is important. After he fell the match turned in our favour because a new batsman can't hit shots straightaway and needs some time. And there was no time in that situation."
Mohit said it wasn't that the Kings XI bowlers had bowled badly in the Powerplay, but that Lynn and Sunil Narine had taken them on. "If you see, they played well from the start but that doesn't mean that we didn't bowl well or plan properly," he said. "After the strategic time-out we regrouped to think how Knight Riders would bat with the field spread out and then the spinners came on and bowled well and began turning the match to our side.
"The pitch was a bit on the slower side but under lights, it eased out a bit. It wasn't as dry as expected, compared to the match against Delhi Daredevils, which was a 4pm start. [With] The early start, the pitch plays out completely differently. But it's not just about the pitch. T20 is a dot-ball game for the bowling side. So we try to bowl as many dot balls to build pressure on the batsmen and try and get wickets."