Kolkata Knight Riders 164 for 6 (Karthik 58, Gill 57, Arshdeep 1-25, Bishnoi 1-25) beat Kings XI Punjab (Rahul 74, Agarwal 56, Krishna 3-29, Narine 2-28) by two runs
Oh, Kings XI Punjab. They had it under control, and they blew it. Again.
They needed 21 off 17, with nine wickets in hand. And then, somehow, they contrived to turn it into a situation where two new batsmen - literally; neither had faced a ball yet - needed to hit 14 off the last over. Against Sunil Narine. Good luck with that.
Narine varied his pace masterfully, and kept landing the ball tantalisingly short or wide of the batsmen's hitting arc. And Glenn Maxwell, not at his best this season but seldom getting the time or space he might need to bat himself into rhythm, found the boundary twice.
There was a switch-hit that landed a few meters short of carrying for six. That brought the equation down to eight off three balls. And then there here was a fall-away slice over extra-cover that fell inches - maybe the plural isn't necessary - short of carrying for six. A few more inches, and Kings XI would have taken this into a Super Over. But it fell short, and so did Kings XI. Again.
Despite getting the worst of the conditions - the pitch started out two-paced before settling down nicely - and despite losing one of their key end-overs bowlers, Andre Russell, to a knee injury, the Kolkata Knight Riders had pulled this out of the hat, like the best T20 teams do. They've not always been at their best yet this season, but they have four wins from six games.
Kings XI have one win from seven, and mostly have themselves to blame for it.
Kings XI go hard
Not with the bat - we'll get to that in a bit - but with the new ball. Opting to bat, the Knight Riders were confronted with a Kings XI plan built around what are now widely known as the hard lengths: mostly back of a length, sometimes shorter, always delivered with the intention of hitting the pitch hard and the bat high up the blade. Mohammed Shami, Arshdeep Singh - the left-armer gave away just two runs in his first two overs - and Chris Jordan combined for six powerplay overs that only went for 25, while also bringing the wickets of Rahul Tripathi - who was bowled by a fullish ball while expecting a short one - and Nitish Rana - via a comedy run-out. Shubman Gill batted through the powerplay and ended it on 13 off 15.
Karthik lifts the Knight Riders' spirits
Gill's strike rate may have looked ordinary in isolation, but this was a difficult pitch to hit on, with some balls stopping on the batsman and others taking off. Eoin Morgan, who batted at No. 4 for the first time this season, also struggled to score quickly, and made 24 off 22 before miscuing a wrong'un in the 11th over. Not for the first time this season, Ravi Bishnoi had tied down and dismissed a big-name left-hand batsman.
The Knight Riders were 63 for 3 in 10.4 overs, with Gill batting on 29 off 27. It seemed like a total in the 150-160 range would be competitive on this pitch, but that would still need someone to come in and pepper the boundaries.
They found that someone in their captain, Dinesh Karthik. Death bowling has been Kings XI's most widely discussed failing this season, and Karthik exposed it once again, putting away every little error of line or length as Arshdeep, Jordan and Shami went for a combined 45 runs in the 16th, 17th and 18th overs. By the end of this three-over spell, Karthik was batting on 53 off 23, and with him was Russell, who had come to the crease after Gill was run-out going for a second run.
From 146 for 4, the Knight Riders could have ended up with 175 if Russell had batted through the last two overs, but he departed during an excellent 19th from Arshdeep - who trusted in the wide yorker delivered from left-arm over - which only went for nine. Only nine came from the final over as well, with Karthik not quite able to get Jordan away, and the Knight Riders finished with 164.
Kings XI don't go hard
It's been their set pattern this season. Mayank Agarwal goes after the bowling at one end, KL Rahul bats within himself at the other and aims to bat deep. The merits of such an approach aren't entirely clear, but there was some logic to it here, with Kings XI not chasing a massive target, and with their selection slightly compromising their batting depth - though the inclusion of Jordan for the injured Sheldon Cottrell left them with a slightly better lower order than the one they had in their previous game against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
And for 14.1 overs, the approach seemingly worked like clockwork. Rahul put away the bad balls while otherwise looking to rotate the strike, and moved to 58 off 47. Agarwal chanced his arm a little more, chipping over the infield or making room to hit over the covers, and moved to 56 off 38. Kings XI needed 50 off 35 at that point.
Agarwal's dismissal off the next ball didn't immediately change the game. Nicholas Pooran is in better hitting form than nearly everyone else in the IPL right now, and he seemed to be finishing this in a hurry, crashing Kamlesh Nagarkoti to the cover boundary and pulling his next ball for six to complete a 19-run 16th over and bring the equation down to 29 off 24.
At this point, fewer question marks hung over Kings XI's approach than over the Knight Riders' tactics. Should they have used up Pat Cummins' quota early despite knowing Russell - who had hurt his knee in the second over, while tumbling into the boundary hoardings in a failed attempt to catch Rahul off Prasidh Krishna - wouldn't be able to bowl at the death? Should they have held Nagarkoti - their weak link on a pitch that had less in it for him and more for the spinners and the hit-the-deck Prasidh Krishna - back for the 20th over?
Narine does it again
Everything changed with the second ball of the 18th over, when Pooran exposed his stumps, swung across the line at Narine, and missed an offbreak. Kings XI still seemed to be in control, needing 21 off 16, but they sent in Prabhsimran Singh - who was playing only his 16th T20 game, and had no record to speak of - rather than Maxwell.
Three dots followed, and a single off the last ball. That left Kings XI needing 20 from 12. Prabhsimran was on strike, and Rahul, who had only hit six boundaries in 55 balls by that point, would need to change his tempo abruptly. In that situation, Krishna bowled an excellent 19th over, either pitching too full for the batsmen to get under, or bowling short of a length and denying them room. Prabhsimran fell to a slower bouncer off the fourth ball of the over, and Rahul, swiping across the line at a full-toss, played on off the last ball.
That left Narine bowling to two batsmen with 0* (0) against their name, with 14 to get off six balls. Good luck with that.