For Gautam Gambhir, it was the 100th T20 as Kolkata Knight Rider’s skipper, since he left Delhi Daredevils some years ago. Though his place in the Indian team has not been so secure, the story has been vastly different with his being the KKR captain. He won the IPL for KKR in his inaugural year and he did it once again in 2014. Some people may like to debate on Gambhir’s leadership ability or his performance with the bat, but the fact of the matter remains that by meeting the desired success, he has come to the expectations of KKR’s owners, two of the most recognizable faces in Bollywood. Now he has led his side to the semifinals of the champions’ league, and who knows, Gambhir could add another feather to his cap. On Monday, when Gambhir walked out for the toss with the Dolphins skipper Morne van Wyk, he must have had a clear mind for two reasons; one KKR was going into this academically important match with a firm clarity that the result would not affect anything as the Kolkata team was already in the semifinal and two, it was the right time for Gambhir to try something new. In IPL 2014, KKR began with bad omens chasing them in the UAE leg but later recovered to notch one victory after another. Until their match with Dolphins on Monday, KKR had remained unbeaten in their last 12 matches. But 10 of those victories had come with KKR batting second. Therefore, with nothing to lose, he chose to bat first against Dolphins after winning the toss just to test KKR’s ability, the other way round . In the end, the result was the same. With Robin Uthappa in full flow and Manish Pandey supporting him, KKR got away with a match-winning total. Dolphins found the target too hot and despite glimpses of mid-innings adventurism, wilted under pressure.
KKR began quietly and in the first few overs, not many runs could be scored. In the fourth over, Gambhir tried a leg-side pull to a straighter in-swinging ball from Frylinck only to see his off stump cartwheeling. Jacques Kallis joined Uthappa but he lasted only seven balls. On the last ball from Craig Alexander’s fifth over, Kallis tried a drive to extra cover, missed it completely and this time, it was the leg stump that went cartwheeling. But this was the end of any other action from the Dolphins bowlers, who were treated to some really severe power hitting from Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey. In putting on an unbroken stand of 153, the pair produced one of the most fruitful partnerships in Champions league. In the end KKR finished with 187/2 with Uthappa not out on 85 made from 55 balls with 13 fours. Pandey matched him but his unbeaten 76 in 47 balls had 5 fours and 5 sixes.
The target of 188 was quite stiff for Dolphins and they made it even more difficult by losing two wickets for just 6 runs in the second over. Gambhir had pressed Yusuf Pathan into opening the bowling and he didn’t disappoint by accounting for Cameron Delport in his first over. In the next over, Andre Russel disposed of Cody Chetty. Though Morne van Wyk and van Jaarsveld added 47 runs for the third wicket, the rate of scoring had suffered. In addition, two more wickets fell by the 9th over. After 57/4, Khaya Zondo and Andile Phehlukwayo attempted some heroics and added 63 runs for the fifth wicket in good time. But even at that stage they had moved to the 15th over and needed 68 runs in 32 balls. Sunil Narine made things easier for KKR by removing Phehlukwayo for a nicely compiled 37 off 18 balls. After that, wickets kept falling and Dolphins could only reach 151/8 in 20 overs, falling 36 runs short of the target.
KKR continued their winning streak that reached a run of 13 straight victories so far. In some of their earlier games, Dolphins showed a capacity for explosive batting but that was missing in this game, where all the fiery elements were cornered by Uthappa and Pandey.