Kolkata: Suresh Raina led from the front with a sublime half-century as laggards Gujarat Lions returned to winning ways with a comprehensive four-wicket away win over leaders Kolkata Knight Riders in an Indian Premier League match, here on Saturday.
Chasing a challenging 188-run target after opting to bowl, Gujarat Lions were off to a brisk start, thanks to Aaron Finch (31 off 15 balls; 4x2s, 2x6s) and Brendon McCullum (33 off 17; 5x4s, 1×6) who stitched a quickfire 42-run opening stand that came off just 21 balls.
But a 30-minute rain interruption came in their way as Gujarat Lions were reduced to 81 for three in 7.2 overs after the break. Raina, however, held Gujarat Lions chase together and made full use of his reprieve by Robin Uthappa on one to make 84 off 46 balls with the help of nine fours and four sixes to set the platform for the much-needed win with 10 balls to spare.
After the brisk start, Raina did well to sneak in occasional six or boundary in the middle overs to keep the run-rate in check. The most-capped IPL player, Raina, brought up his second 50 of this season in 32 balls. He also notched up his highest score for Gujarat Lions, going past the 75 he made against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Raina took the charge against Nathan Coulter-Nile (2/41) in the 17th over with one six and two fours to bring the equation down to 17 off the last three overs. But the Gujarat Lions skipper left the job unfinished as he was dismissed by Kuldeep Yadav but Ravindra Jadeja (19 off 13 balls) took them over the line with a four to get the visitors back to winning ways.
This is Gujarat’s second win of the season which pushed Rising Pune Supergiant to bottom as five teams now are on four points. For the home team, who routed the Lions by 10 wickets in the first leg in Rajkot, this was their third loss from four matches and it would come as a setback ahead of their marquee clash against Royal Challengers Bangalore in two days time.
In pursuit of 188, Gujarat Lions matched KKR’s flying start in equal measure as McCullum and Finch raced to 40 for no loss in three overs. KKR began their defence with spin ploy of Shakib-al-Hasan and Sunil Narine but neither of them could put brakes on the scoring rate. Gambhir resorted to pace attack in Coulter-Nile and the Aussie gave the hosts the much-needed breakthrough in his third ball, dismissing Finch.
But McCullum continued the assault and hit the Aussie for a four, six and another four in the next three balls as Lions raced to 56 for one in four overs, their fastest fifty in the IPL. Finally there was some respite in store for the home team, albeit in the form of light drizzle accompanied by strong wind that held up play for 30 minutes with Lions at 62 for one in five overs, 21 runs ahead of Duckworth-Lewis par score.
It certainly broke the momentum for the Lions as KKR struck twice — McCullum and Dinesh Karthik — in seven balls after the play resumed. Earlier, Robin Uthappa slammed his second halfcentury of the tournament while Narine played a cameo at the top as Kolkata Knight Riders toyed with Gujarat Lions lacklustre attack to post a commanding 187 for five.
It was raining boundaries and sixes at Eden Gardens with Narine using his long handle to great effect. Narine played 42-run cameo knock that came off just 17 balls as he and skipper Gautam Gambhir put together quickfire 45 runs off 20 balls for the opening stand to get KKR off to a blazing start. After Narine’s departure, Uthappa, in his 50th appearance for KKR, made a feast of the lacklustre Gujarat Lions attack and smashed 72 runs in 47 balls with the help of eight fours and two sixes to post his second halfcentury of the season and 19th overall in IPL.
Dropped on six by Finch at long on, Uthappa put together 69 runs off 49 balls with Gambhir (33 from 28 balls; 2x4s, 1×6). It was yet another insipid bowling display by Gujarat Lions as Raina (1/11) looked lack of resources and was forced to bowl two overs. Narine, the makeshift KKR opener, dealt only in fours en route to a blistering 42 from 17 balls (9x4s, 1×6) — an IPL highest score only in boundaries, bettering Sanath Jayasuriya’s 36 (6x4s, 2x6s).
Narine had shown his big-hitting skills as an opener in his T20 career-best 37 against Kings XI Punjab earlier in the tournament and today he got past that mark with another blistering knock. He swung his bat to every ball and the Gujarat Lions new ball attack of Praveen Kumar and James Faulkner was found wanting. Narine began his assault with three boundaries in Praveen Kumar’s first over that yielded 12 runs, and then he hammered four boundaries, three of them on succession, off Faulkner’s next over.
Looking for some respite, Raina brought on Basil Thampi who’s known for bowling consistent yorkers. But the Kerala speedster too failed to arrest Narine’s run flow as hit him for two fours and one six to take KKR to 44 after three overs. A desperate Raina brought himself in the fourth over, a move that finally worked as Narine gave a straight forward catch to Faulkner at midwicket.