Knight Riders' intent foils Mumbai's defence
The tone for Kolkata Knight Riders' confident chase was set by Gautam Gambhir, whose domineering mindset negated Mumbai's spinners and forced the opposition to rethink its plans
By the time the Powerplay was over Kolkata Knight Riders were 38 for the loss of Robin Uthappa. Gautam Gambhir
was quietly sitting on seven runs, having broken his bat in the second over, and after having been dropped on 1 by Aditya Tare off the last ball of the same over from Vinay Kumar.
But even on the ball where his bat went kaput, Gambhir showed intent: he stepped out with the aim of playing on the rise, hoping to the hit the ball between cover and mid-off. And that attacking mindset eventually came to fruition when Mumbai Indians' captain Rohit Sharma introduced spin.
In the first over after the Powerplay, Mumbai's left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha tossed up the third delivery, inviting Gambhir to take him on. The Knight Riders captain did not shy away, and he jumped out of his crease to loft the ball for a straight six.
But it was in the next over that Gambhir shifted the momentum towards Knight Riders as he completely toyed with Harbhajan Singh. There was also a score to settle - in the eight matches both have played across all IPLs, Harbhajan had dismissed Gambhir four times before today. Gambhir had managed to score just 27 runs off 35 deliveries he faced in that time.
Harbhajan's first ball was pitched fuller and outside off stump. Gambhir lunged forward to pick an easy four past cover. Next ball, Gambhir quickly moved on to his back foot to steer the ball for two runs behind point. He followed that with another double, this time through a mis-timed push. When Harbhajan went short on the off stump the next ball, Gambhir, having once again stepped back, cut fiercely for the second four of the over.
In two overs, Knight Riders had picked 24 runs and Gambhir had contributed 23. When Harbhajan returned in his next over, Gambhir hit consecutive fours: the first, an inside-out drive high over the cover fielder, and then another powerful cut on the back foot which helped the Knight Riders total climb to 85 at the halfway stage.
A few overs later, Harbhajan was brought to his knees as he attempted to catch a powerfully hit straight drive from Gambhir. The ball was so hit so hard that even the deflection could not slow it down as it went past the straight boundary. In the end, Gambhir scored 30 runs off 15 balls from Harbhajan, and 14 runs off eight balls from Ojha. Effectively he had cancelled out two of the most important bowlers of Mumbai's attack, thus putting pressure on his counterpart Rohit Sharma to change his plans.
Incidentally Harbhajan pitched 15 of his 24 deliveries on the stumps or outside off, and only four balls were short. Yet Gambhir managed to find the gaps and the runs. One reason Gambhir has always been one of the best players of spin is his footwork - he can jump out easily and step back effortlessly to manoeuvre the ball.
It was not just Gambhir who entered the chase with a domineering mindset. Even before the Knight Riders captain began targeting the spinners, Manish Pandey had provided the impetus by flicking his fourth delivery - a fuller one from Corey Anderson - for a six. The next ball, trying to flick again, the leading edge flew over Kieron Pollard at short point for a four. When Lasith Malinga came back for his second spell in the 11th over, his second ball soared high into the stands on the leg side, courtesy another powerful flick from Pandey.
Suryakumar Yadav, who replaced Pandey at the crease, opened his account with flicked six, as Vinay attempted a full-swinging yorker. Yadav continued attacking bowlers effortlessly and disdainfully as he lived up to the finisher's role once Gambhir had departed with Knight Riders still a distance away from victory.
In contrast to the attacking mode adopted by Knight Riders, Mumbai had played the waiting game. This was a consequence of their top order faltering in the face of a furious spell of fast bowling from Morne Morkel. Coming into the tournament on the back of a good World Cup, Morkel bowled fuller lengths at extreme pace and found movement and bounce off the surface. The two balls he bowled to Ambati Rayudu were pure menace and the batsman had no answer.
The cautious approach did seem to pay off once Rohit and Anderson eventually broke the shackles in the final five overs, but had they adopted the same gung-ho attitude displayed by Gambhir and co. they might have finished with a much more formidable total.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo