The prolific opening combination of Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa was one of the highlights of Kolkata Knight Riders' 2016 season. Uthappa had lauded their "batting chemistry"; they had stacked up staggering numbers after all: 566 runs at an average of 37.73, with one century and four fifty stands.
Why would they then change the combination in their opening match of the 2017 IPL? The answer is Chris Lynn. Knight Riders' frail middle order was probably a cause of concern from last year and Friday night showed using Lynn's strength against pace bowling early on was not a bad idea, even though he had opened only twice in his career of 85 T20s. It meant Uthappa would probably bat at No. 3, but he was not required to in their opening fixture against Gujarat Lions.
Knight Riders' Suryakumar Yadav revealed in the post-match conference that their strategy to open with Lynn was not an impromptu decision after Gujarat Lions had scored 183 for 4. "Since he [Lynn] came to Kolkata and we started the camp, we had one thing in mind - our captain backed him to open," Suryakumar said. "It was the best thing and he [Gambhir] told Lynn straightaway that he's going to open in the tournament so it was not instant, it was pre-planned."
Lynn was the dominant one in the opening partnership with Gambhir as he raced to a 19-ball fifty, hammering 23 runs against Dwayne Smith in the seventh over. He said he did not try anything unusual and only focused on getting the basics right by putting the bad balls away."We knew we had to get off to a good start and we did that, we put them under pressure in the first six overs and then we took our momentum from there," Lynn told iplt20.com after ending unbeaten on 93 off 41 balls.
"I try and keep things very simple, it's as simple as see ball, hit ball. If they bowl a good ball, you've got to respect that and try and get down at the other end and if they bowl a bad ball, you've to try and put it away. That's as simple as I can put it. And if I'm not having fun, I'm not going to do well. That's the main thing."
Opening the batting also meant Lynn did not have to make too many adjustments to his game to suit Indian conditions. "Probably just the [adjustment to the] bounce, and maybe as a batter you might put your stance a little bit lower and you've got to hold your shape a little bit more. As an opener the difference is minimal but batting in the middle order has a lot more changes - starting against spin is one thing. But upfront it's generally the ball slotting on, and it's a nice hard Kookaburra… as I said, have a bit of fun and you never know. I had a little bit of luck tonight but you make use of luck so it's a positive thing.
"It may not always be my night but fingers crossed I can always pick that momentum and ride that wave throughout that tournament now. So that's the challenge and teams are going to watch the footage and work a plan out and I'm going to have to try and throw a punch back and go one better, that's part of the game but it's great fun while we're doing it."
Knight Riders' opening stand of 184 was the highest total chased down in the history of T20s, with Gambhir unbeaten on 76 off 48 balls. Lynn said he was "very comfortable" with Gambhir and there was hardly going to be a chance of scoring a century since the captain was also scoring at a quick rate.
"I'm just really happy with the way we gelled, we did it so quickly," Lynn said. "That's probably the second time I've batted with GG now. We were very comfortable, we ran between the wickets well and that's the best sign coming out of it. It's good fun and to do it none down was even more special.
"First I was happy to get off the mark, then get the fifty but the way Gauti was batting, he was never going to give me a chance to get to a hundred. But I'll take 90 not out any day of the week over a hundred, as everyone says the team comes first."