For the most part of the eventual thriller that was the match between Lucknow Super Giants and Kolkata Knight Riders, it seemed to be all LSG. First, the stakes. KKR faced off against LSG in the last group stage match for both teams. While Lucknow needed the win only to book a sure playoff ticket and a possible top-two seat, Kolkata required to win in order to stay alive in the tournament and would need a host of other results to go their way to sneak into the top-four.
Now, the QDK show. Combining with consistent-as-ever skipper KL Rahul at the top, wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock played one of the most memorable knocks in the history of the league as he hacked away at KKR’s infantile bowling attack to pile up 140* off 70 balls. Rahul played happy second fiddle, for the most part, scoring 68* off 51, as the stylish left-hander at the other end flayed KKR mercilessly for all of 20 overs, upping the ante at the death and smashing records for sixes as Lucknow openers stitched together 210 in 20 overs. And they did so without any damage whatsoever – the first instance for a team has done so in the IPL, where openers batted a full 20 overs batting first. A dolly dropped by debutant Abhijeet Tomar when QDK was on 12, and then a sharp take missed by Sam Billings behind the stumps when he was into his 60s cost Kolkata dearly.
It seemed like it was going to be one-way traffic for the second innings, too, as the scrappy Venkatesh Iyer looked a shadow of his former self, poking at a Mohsin Khan inswinger away from his body and inside-edging one to QDK, who seemed incapable of doing any wrong on the evening, as he snapped up the tight chance, diving to his right. Tomar’s jittery nerves cost him eventually when he clipped one off his pads straight to skipper Rahul at mid-wicket. Lucknow’s Mohsin Khan looked like he was bowling on a different pitch altogether, giving away 20 runs in his 4, picking three wickets and stifling KKR. To lend context, the next best economy from either side was that of Sunil Narine’s for KKR, who gave away 27 runs for no wicket in his 4.
KKR were 11/2 at the end of 3 overs and staring down what was now a familiar barrel. Say what you will about KKR’s opening troubles, lack of teeth in the bowling department, or laggard fielding: they have always packed a powerhouse middle-order. The fabled middle order came to the party on Wednesday, with Nitish Rana hitting a flurry of boundaries in quick time to crack 42 of 22.
Skipper Shreyas Iyer himself only bore witness as this time it was a KKR left-hander who took the bowlers to the sword, smashing nine fours. When he fell, 146 were still needed off 77. Iyer stepped up himself, playing a captain’s knock and hitting a quickfire 50 off 29. Alongside Sam Billings, who hit 36 off 24 himself, they staged a full-frontal assault on the Lucknow bowlers, sparing none and raising hopes of an unlikely Kolkata’s victory.
A short middle-innings lull in scoring brought about the downfall of both set batters. When Billings was bamboozled by a vengeful Ravi Bishnoi and stumped by the quick QDK, and KKR’s talisman Andre Russell holed out for a sluggish 5 off 11, KKR still needed 61 off 20 balls.
But Kolkata Knight Riders still had a few shots in the tank. A calculated six-hitting spree took off from both ends, with Sunil Narine (21* off 7) helping three sail over the fence, revealing glimpses of the marauding batter he once was.
But the more deadly assault was unleashed by the hitherto under-appreciated Rinku Singh, who seemed determined to steal QDK’s thunder. Hitting 40 off 15, it seemed like he would do just that. After runs were pillaged in the 18th and 19th, KKR still needed as many as 21 of the last six, with Aussie international Marcus Stoinis, set to bowl his most important over of his IPL career.
Odds were stacked against the diminutive Singh, but even as on-air commentators screamed themselves hoarse into the mic, he took the senior Aussie on a leather hunt, slamming 4, 6, 6 off the first three balls, and then took a brace to ease the equation down to a mere three runs off 2 balls. Something historic was on the cards as Kolkata seemed to be within touching distance of a mammoth 210-run target, and with Rinku Singh seeing red, it looked like it might be over with a ball to spare.
But cricket is a great leveller, and its gods’ humour is a warped one. The QDK gem was not to be overshadowed by the cumulative batting brutalism of KKR, as Rinku skied the fifth ball to Evin Lewis, who plucked it out of thin air and took off running. One had to feel for the KKR batter as he watched Umesh Yadav lose his off stump to a searing yorker from Stoinis’ last ball of the over from the sidelines.
Lucknow Supergiants pocketed the match by a two-run margin, certainly too close for comfort for a side which aspires to make it big in their first season. Kolkata Knight Riders gave them a real fright, but eventually, the combined class of QDK, Rahul, Mohsin, and Stoinis helped them knock out the two-time champions and leave them fretting for yet another season.
But what will surely ease KKR will be the unearthing of young talent in Billings and Rinku, screaming their potential for the seasons to come. Stay Tuned with The Sportsway for more such updates.