"One interesting decision and everyone forgets you hit a fifty in the last game." It seemed Glenn Maxwell was still smarting from an incorrect caught-behind decision in Kings XI Punjab's previous game against Gujarat Lions. He couldn't score any runs then, but on Wednesday, it was almost like he couldn't be stopped.
Almost, because Piyush Chawla found a way, and did so at the perfect time. Maxwell fell for 68 off 42 balls with his side still 45 runs away from a target of 165 with only 26 balls in hand. A well-populated Eden Gardens reveled in the tension. So did a bowling attack that featured six internationals. Kolkata Knight Riders closed out a victory by seven runs and climbed to the top of the table.
Andre Russell had 11 runs to defend in the final over and he did so by picking up one wicket, apart from two run-outs, to finish with 4 for 20 in four overs. He was Knight Riders' battering ram, but he needed Chawla to make that decisive dent. By contrast, Kings XI were reliant on one man and he had far too much to do.
Maxwell took on the challenge though. He came in with the score on 13 for 3 and his determination to contribute was apparent in the shots he played - flicks and cuts against the Knight Riders quicks, who bowled too short at him, and powerful lofts down the ground against the spinners. Essentially, Maxwell wanted to limit the risks he took. His fifty came off only 29 balls, by which time he had played only one reverse sweep.
Towards the end of his innings, the cross-batted shots kept coming out and one of them did him in. Maxwell misread a googly from Chawla, played a reverse sweep against the turn and was adjudged lbw by umpire Anil Chaudhary. The batsman walked off unhappy because he felt he was hit outside the line of off stump, and while replays indicated more than half the ball had been outside the line, some of his anger may have been directed at himself. He was the only Kings XI batsman who showed any kind of control and with him out of the way, Knight Riders breezed past the finish line.
The result seemed never in doubt when Russell had knocked over Marcus Stoinis and Vohra in his first two overs. Morne Morkel had M Vijay caught at mid-off in the fourth over as the Kings XI top order paid the price for not taking time to understand a slow pitch.
Knight Riders fared better in that department as well. Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa struck fluent half-centuries and added 101 runs for the opening partnership. Though the run-rate they maintained was only 7.48, they laid an excellent foundation for the big-hitters down the order by punishing a bowling line-up that couldn't get their length right.
On a sluggish pitch, short-pitched bowling allowed the batsman time to pick his spots, as Stoinis found out in the third over when Gambhir pulled a couple of fours away. It also allowed time to recover after making a mistake, as Mohit Sharma found out in the fourth over when Uthappa came forward to a back of a length delivery and was still able to drive it past point.
On top of that, Kings XI dropped Uthappa three balls after Gambhir was run-out. The culprit, Mohit, recovered well though. He and Sandeep Sharma switched to a mix of yorkers and slower deliveries for the last five overs. That meant Yusuf Pathan and Russell could not bring their power-hitting into play and Knight Riders had to settle for only 43 runs in that period.
Kings XI have dropped to the bottom of the table with six losses in eight games. They went in with only three overseas players on Wednesday - Maxwell, Stoinis and David Miller - after Shaun Marsh's back injury ruled him out of the IPL two days ago. Hashim Amla, who was brought in as a replacement, sat out because he had arrived in India on the day of the match and had had very little time to prepare.