Kolkata’s lead at No. 2

Gautam Gambhir made Royal Challengers Bangalore pay for dropping him twice, batting with aggression and precision to lead Kolkata Knight Riders to a match-winning total, which the visitors struggled to chase on a traditionally slow pitch at Eden Gardens. Gambhir used the depth of his crease, as well as his feet, to pound the leg side, where he scored 11 out of his 14 boundaries, primarily through pull shots. His 93, and supporting acts from Brendon McCullum and Jacques Kallis, helped Knight Riders stay No. 2 and move two points clear of their closest rivals, Royal Challengers and Chennai Super

Gautam Gambhir signals his half-century, Kolkata Knight Riders v Royal Challengers, IPL, Kolkata, April 28, 2012

Gautam Gambhir’s 93 was an example of how to bat on the Eden Gardens pitch © AFP
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Gautam Gambhir made Royal Challengers Bangalore Kings.

Knight Riders’ bowlers also came to the fore during the defence, striking early and neutralising their biggest threat, Chris Gayle, by keeping him off strike. Yusuf Pathan, who has struggled for form with bat and ball, bowled an economical opening spell, during which he dismissed Tillakaratne Dilshan in the first over. In the sixth, Kallis ripped the heart out of Royal Challengers’ chase by trapping Virat Kohli lbw and having AB de Villiers caught miscuing a pull off his first ball. The visitors were 34 for 3, and by the end of the eighth over Gayle had faced only 16 balls and scored as many runs. The chase went nowhere after that, despite Gayle batting until the 20th over to finish with 86 off 58; Sunil Narine confounding batsmen with his variations on a responsive pitch.

Royal Challengers’ struggle for any sort of fluency only highlighted the quality of Gambhir’s performance after he chose to bat. Despite scoring heavily between long-on and square leg, Gambhir’s first boundary was on the off side, when he cut his first ball, from Zaheer Khan, through point. So was his second, but his slash to third man off Zaheer was initially caught by Harshal Patel, running and diving to his left before he lost control of the ball after hitting the ground. Two balls later Gambhir, on 13, cut firmly towards gully, where Gayle stuck out his left hand but did not catch the ball. Gambhir went on to score 80 more runs, and dominate partnerships of 95 and 80 with McCullum and Kallis.

Gambhir’s comfort on this surface was in contrast to McCullum’s struggle. Despite tucking the first ball of the match for four, McCullum failed to time the spinners and was on 11 off 20 balls after six overs. That Knight Riders had reached 46 for 0 was entirely down to Gambhir. He even exchanged words with de Villiers, which seemed to intensify his determination.

McCullum eventually began to break free, accelerating his sluggish strike rate to more than a run a ball. He had just swept and driven his countryman Daniel Vettori for boundaries when he missed a cut and was bowled in the 11th over. Now in the company of Kallis, Gambhir went from strength to strength, muscling deliveries from all varieties of bowlers to and over the midwicket boundary. Perhaps it was the fatigue caused by the intensity of his performance, but Gambhir failed to score a boundary off six balls, before holing out to long-off in the 19th over, when he had a real chance of scoring a maiden IPL century.

Kallis, however, ensured the momentum did not abate, striking three colossal sixes straight and over midwicket to finish on 41 off 27 balls. Shortly afterward, he would deal Royal Challengers two body blows off consecutive balls during the chase, ending the game as a contest. Gayle went on to muscle six sixes, and became the highest run-scorer of IPL 2012, but most of those were after Royal Challengers had no chance of winning.

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