KOLKATA // Upwards of 65,000 frenzied fans crammed the Eden Gardens on a reasonably pleasant Wednesday night in anticipation of a popular home win, and they did not go away disappointed.
With Shah Rukh Khan, their talismanic owner, and other Bollywood celebrities in attendance, Kolkata Knight Riders began the defence of their Indian Premier League (IPL) in overwhelming fashion. Kolkata brushed aside by six wickets a feeble challenge from Delhi Daredevils, already weakened by the loss of Kevin Pietersen and Jesse Ryder, and denied the services of Virender Sehwag, ruled out with back spasms.
Brett Lee made the first statement of intent off the very first delivery of IPL VI, a beauty which shaped in to Unmukt Chand, then moved away to knock off stump out. Lee was not quite the destroyer, however. That role was assumed by Sunil Narine, the player of the tournament last season when Kolkata blazed to the title.
Narine, the off-pinner, bamboozled the batsmen with his variations, finishing with returns of four for 13 as Delhi were bowled out for 128 off the last ball of their innings. A combative, well-crafted 66 from Mahela Jayawardene, the captain, was all that kept Kolkata at bay.
The chase did not get off to the best start. Manvinder Bisla was dismissed in the second over by Ashish Nehra, but Gautam Gambhir batted with authority while Jacques Kallis oozed class during his brief stay at the crease. Their second-wicket association of 47 in just 34 deliveries effectively killed off the contest.
Gambhir, striking the ball ferociously, and Manoj Tiwary added a further 41 before both falling in the space of seven deliveries. Delhi sought to apply pressure through their spinners, Shabhaz Nadeem and Johan Botha, who were effective as the ball got older and softer. But once the quicker bowlers came back on, Eoin Morgan and Yusuf Pathan hauled the team home with eight deliveries to spare.
Only when Jayawardene and David Warner, who played well within himself, were involved in a stand of 44 for the second wicket had Delhi, sent in, looked in any degree of comfort. Making light of Chand’s dismissal, Jayawardene showed deft touch, manoeuvring the ball beautifully into gaps and feeding off the extra pace that Lee and Kallis offered.
Delhi had reached 41 after five overs when Gambhir brought on Narine. With his fifth delivery, his first to Warner, Narine procured turn and bounce to take the outside edge. Kallis took a comfortable catch at slip.
Lakshmipathi Balaji and Rajat Bhatia, masters at change of pace, made the most of the sluggish surface by mixing things up. Wickets tumbled in rapid succession as one batsman after another succumbed to the pressure.
Jayawardene feasted on Lee’s pace towards the end, but Narine ripped through the tail in a three-over second spell to cut off all escape routes.
Delhi Daredevils 128 all out (20 overs): Jayawardene 66, Warner 21; Narine 4-13, Bhatia 2-23
Kolkata Knight Riders 129-4 (18.4 overs): Gambhir 42, Kallis 23, Tiwary, 23; Nadeem 2-22
Man of the match Sunil Narine (Kolkata Knight Riders)
R Kaushik is deputy editor at Wisden India.
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