x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Kolkata Knight Riders atop of Indian Premier League

After finishing fifth, last and sixth in the last three seasons, the Kolkata Knight Riders are in unfamiliar territory.

Gautam Gambhir scored 35 runs to help lead Knight Riders to victory yesterday.
Gautam Gambhir scored 35 runs to help lead Knight Riders to victory yesterday.

After finishing fifth, last and sixth in the last three seasons, the Kolkata Knight Riders are in unfamiliar territory: at the top of the Indian Premier League table with three wins from four games.

There is still a long way to go and the lead will change hands often in the coming days, but the fresh, new Knight Riders team, led by Gautam Gambhir, the league's record purchase at US$2.4 million (Dh8.8m), are showing the confidence that could see them make their first appearance in the semi-finals.

They proved their credentials last night with an eight-wicket win over the Rajasthan Royals in front of their home fans at Eden Gardens.

Dismissing the Royals for a paltry 81, they raced to the target with 6.1 overs to spare.

Gambhir (35) and Manoj Tiwary (30) added 54 in an unbroken third-wicket partnership after the Knight Riders had lost Jacques Kallis to the second ball of the run-chase.

Kolkata had defeated Rajasthan comprehensively in their away game two days ago and they did it again against a side missing two of their most experienced campaigners.

Rahul Dravid and Johan Botha were ruled out of the game with injuries and the Royals made a disappointing start to the game in their absence, losing Shane Watson in the fourth over. Lakshmipathy Balaji could barely contain his joy after creeping through Watson's defence with some late swings that found the top of the off stump to dismiss the Australian for 11.

That was Kolkata's first success of the night, with 24 on the board.

Four runs later, Iqbal Abdulla had Amit Paunikar (15) stumped and Gambhir's decision to put Rajasthan in seemed to be paying off.

Abdulla, doing well with his left-arm spin, made a superb run-out off his own bowling to send Faiz Fazal (three) back to the pavilion.

Abhishek Raut was also run-out in the next over and Rajasthan had lost four wickets for 43 in eight overs.

In walked Ross Taylor at that stage and the Rajasthan fans must have been expecting a lot from him.

The New Zealander, however, lasted only nine balls, making seven before he was stumped down the leg side off Yusuf Pathan.

Losing half their side with only 67 on the board, the Royals were eventually bowled out for 81 in 15.2 overs with Shakib al Hassan taking two wickets off consecutive deliveries and Balaji finishing with three for 15.

"I think it has been one of my good spells," said Balaji. "We stuck to the basics and that is very important in Twenty20 cricket. We bowled stump-to-stump and that paid off for us."

"I was sweating a lot, so I couldn't hold the ball nicely," said Shakib, the Bangladesh captain. "The ball was not coming out nicely, but still I am happy with the way I bowled.

"We knew the ball will spin a bit on this wicket, it always does at Eden Gardens.

"So we tried to bowl in the right areas, do the basics right and it came out good."

* Compiled by Ahmed Rizvi