After the third ball in the fifth over, MS Dhoni was furiously waving at Harbhajan Singh who was stationed at deep fine leg. He wanted the fielder to take the same position inside the circle. Robin Uthappa, all this while, bat on his right shoulder, is looking at Dhoni making the changes. So, as Deepak Chahar gets ready to bowl, Uthappa has noticed the fielders come in at short fine leg and has seen midwicket being pushed back of the fence. The very next delivery – a short off-cutter – is pulled to deep midwicket; to the only fielder in the deep. If you were asked to pick one moment to describe Kolkata Knight Riders’ night in Chennai, this was it.
Uthappa had crunched the first ball past cover and then picked out the short ball and dispatched it wide of mid-on on the very next ball. Just when it seemed KKR will recover from the early wobble, Uthappa played the pull to pick out the only fielder in the deep. In Chennai, KKR could only manage 108 for 9 before losing by seven wickets. It wasn’t a shambolic show like the one Royal Challengers Bangalore produced in the opening clash of IPL 2019. However, in a crucial top-of-the-table clash, KKR batsmen failed to turn up. When Uthappa played that pull, KKR were 24 for 3. He had seen the team slip to 9 for 3 before being joined by Dinesh Karthik. On a tired Chepauk track, which is facing a lot of criticism because of the sluggish nature, KKR lost the game even before the spinners could take charge.
When KKR lost their openers in the first two overs of the clash, you could hardly blame Chris Lynn or Sunil Narine. It’s their responsibility, irrespective of the conditions, to attack early on and look for quick runs. The stage was also set for them to go for their shots considering it was going to be tough to score against Harbhajan Singh, Imran Tahir and Ravindra Jadeja. Had the move paid off, they would have given the team crucial runs up front which were always going to be tough to score at the death. In hindsight, the openers could have taken two overs to evaluate the conditions but that would have meant going away from the game plan. Lynn was trapped in front by Chahar on the last ball of the opening over while the Narine threat was nullified by Harbhajan.
At 8 for 2, KKR needed Nitish Rana to steady the innings. However, the left-hander lasted just three balls – falling to Chahar, caught at midwicket trying to pull a back of length delivery. Three of KKR’s top-four fell trying to pull, going for cross-batted shots, on a track with no pace in it and that turned out of the crucial phase. CSK had seized the opening part of the game and ended up bossing it throughout. The approach of the openers was understandable but the shots from both Rana and Uthappa were inexplicable. On a track where 130 would have been a daunting total, KKR had lost two of their pillars playing poorly-timed glory shots.
Nothing went right for the visitors from there on. Karthik’s flick found Harbhajan at short midwicket while Shubman Gill was beautifully deceived by Tahir before being stumped. It was the sixth instance of KKR losing six wickets inside 50 runs. Only once they had won the game after being in such a situation and in none of those instances they had gone on to post more than 125. Once the openers were dismissed, KKR needed something substantial and sensible. And yet, were let down by the batsmen. While Rana has been making handy contributions with the bat, Uthappa is consistently struggling to convert his starts. KKR’s win in Jaipur should have held the right-hander in good stead before he threw it away. On a sluggish track against Rajasthan Royals, the assault from Lynn and Narine killed the chase right at the start. Uthappa had spent some time in the middle in the chase and should have known better. It’s as if he’s still a youngster refusing to take responsibility.
“It’s not that we misread the wicket but yes, we played too many shots at the start. We lost three extra wickets in the powerplay. It happens. Sometimes, the shot that went straight to the fielder would have gone in the gap,” Piyush Chawla said after the game defending the batsmen. “A total of 135 would have been ideal on this wicket. When Nitish played that shot, it went to the fielder. When Robin played the ball, he toed it and it went to the fielder. It just happens.”
KKR’s ship also sank because of the dilemma they faced throughout their innings. Dew was already playing a part when CSK were bowling and KKR kept chasing those additional runs from very early on instead of laying a solid foundation for a late assault. As things panned out, Dhoni was forced to use his pacers at the death and the batsmen could have capitalised them had they not shot themselves in the foot. On the night, the KKR batsmen lacked situational awareness. The only person willing to grind it out was the man-in-form Andre Russell. The allrounder stayed unbeaten on 50 to lift the side over 100 and saved the side some blushes.
The batsmen, however, can take heart from the fact that they’ll be playing the next three games on the batting-friendly tracks of Eden Gardens where the bowlers will again be expected to do the heavy lifting. “In this tournament, it’s important that if you win, you forget it quickly and even if you lose, you forget it quickly,” were Chawla’s words to his batsmen. They’ll be desperate to.