Uncelebrated batsmen Nitish Rana and Rahul Tripathi produced stellar knocks to fuel Kolkata Knight Riders to a steep total of 187/6 on a slow surface before they consigned Sunrisers Hyderabad to a 10-run defeat, in the process exposing their vulnerabilities. Though the margin of victory was relatively slim, the gulf in quality between the sides was sizeable.

A perceivably low-profile top order was suggested as Kolkata Knight Riders’ glaring vulnerability in the build-up. Most other sides have stacked the top three with big names and bigger hitters.

But Kolkata’s top order wears a thin look — a talented youngster who is yet to blossom into the world-conquering batsman he’s touted to be, paired by a pugnacious but not prolific left-hander, followed by a stylish but woefully inconsistent stroke-maker. Their real batting, even their ardent fans would admit, begins with the middle order — with the proven quartet of Eoin Morgan, Shakib Al Hasan, Dinesh Karthik and Andre Russell.

But on Sunday, the least celebrated of them, Rana and Tripathi put on a scintillating show of explosive, largely risk-free batting. Rana was all power and precision, Tripathi was all timing and placement. Together, with their contrasting styles, they build impetus and a foundation to post a competitive total at a venue where daunting scores have been difficult to come by.

OFF THE MARK WITH A WIN 💪

Rana was determined from the start and ruthless on anything with the slightest of width. His base was set up accordingly. Low in his stance, minimalistic in his movements, he waits for the ball and if it’s in his slot, full and outside off-stump, he gives it a mighty thump, generating incredible power from his bat-swing. Sandeep Sharma, the most prolific Powerplay bowler in the league, just about erred on the fifth stump and Rana was onto it in a flash. Bhuvneshwar Kumar pitched one full, striving for movement, and Rana blazed it through the covers.

During the Powerplay phase, he launched a calculated onslaught on Sharma, emanating rustiness. The first three balls of the fourth over were consigned for fours — the first two Rana’s trademark off-side slaps, and the third featuring a wrist-flex as he clumped it over square-leg. He reduced Shubman Gill, with whom he stitched a 53-run first-wicket stand, to something of a sideshow.

Soon, after Gill’s departure, Tripathi checked in and maintained the momentum with a stream of gorgeous strokes, beginning with a sumptuous six off Mohammad Nabi over long-off. Rana, then, flipped another gear and showcased his leg-side mastery, realising that Hyderabad had diligently plucked the gaps on the off-side. So rather than staying leg-side of most deliveries, he began shuffling across the crease – not a massive stride but just a couple of steps so that he could get outside the line of the ball and place it behind square-leg. Vijay Shankar’s short ball was clumped over backward square-leg before T Natarajan was short-arm-pulled over fine leg.

Not to be left behind, Tripathi tucked into Bhuvneshwar, off all bowlers, disdaining him for 14 runs off three balls in the 15th over, which cost 19 runs overall. The option-less Sunrisers Hyderabad finally had to summon Rashid Khan to terminate the partnership, which though had already cost them 93 runs. And in the end the match itself.

Soon after he realised that a victory was beyond him and Sunrisers Hyderabad, Manish Pandey thrashed his bat onto the ground. He tried as best as he could, batted splendidly, fusing orthodoxy with modern-day daring, but the moment he lost Jonny Bairstow, the script was taking a familiar, predictable turn. Everything looked in control till then, they were 102 for 2 in 12.5 overs, the asking rate was manageable, the Kolkata bowlers were panicking. Then Pat Cummins got rid of Bairstow, after being caned by the Englishman. The match was effectively over then, but for Pandey’s steely determination. There seemed a sudden loss of belief.

A hard fought match.

Their next batsman, the No. 5, was Mohammad Nabi, who’s at best a surprise pinch-hitter, whose IPL career-best is 31. There were not chilling names down the order either — an inconsistent Vijay Shankar, a sparsely-used Abdul Samad and then Rashid Khan. The flaky middle order was one of the reasons Sunrisers fumbled when chasing in the last season. Whenever they have won on the dint of their batting, one of Bairstow or David Warner batted deep into the innings. There of course is Kane Williamson, but in their juggle for balance, he missed out. Like Kolkata Knight Riders, they need to unearth their own Tripathis and Ranas. And do so quite fast so that they are still in the business when the business end of the IPL approaches.

Sandip G… read more

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