Kolkata: Kolkata Knight Riders weathered the Glenn Maxwell storm to grab a seven-run win over Kings XI Punjab at the Eden Gardens on Wednesday.
Earlier, a 101-run stand between Robin Uthappa and Gautam Gambhir, where they failed to accelerate despite having wickets in hand, saw KKR post a modest total of 164.
In their last match against Gujarat Lions, Marcus Stoinis and Murali Vijay had given Punjab a solid start, which formed the foundation of their win. However, tonight Punjab got off to their worst start in the tournament so far. By 3.1 overs, they were already tottering at 13/3, and all the three dismissals came through disappointing shot selections and executions. Marcus Stoinis and skipper Murali Vijay gave easy catches to Shakib Al Hasan at mid-off, while Manan Vohra holed out at deep backward square. On a pitch where Gambhir opted to play three spinners, Punjab were struggling to cope with Andre Russell's pace and Morne Morkel's bounce.
After surviving Morkel's initial attempt to bounce him out, Maxwell stabilised the Punjab innings to some extent with a 40-run partnership with Wriddhiman Saha, before the wicket-keeper fell to Piyush Chawla.
Then Maxwell, who showed signs of returning to form against Mumbai Indians, started to counter-attack the KKR spinners. The Australian went after Piyush Chawla and Brad Hogg,and scored 27 runs off 10 balls between the 11th and the 12th over. He brought up his second half-century of the season, as the KKR spinners struggled to have any impact on the game.
The late night Maxwell show was finally brought to an end by Chawla, when he was trapped in front of the wicket while attempting to play a reverse-sweep. David Miller's poor run of form continued at the other end, as all of a sudden Punjab found themselves in trouble once again at 130/6 in the 18th over.
Few lusty blows from Axar Patel took Punjab closer to the target and they needed 12 runs in the final over to win the game. However, Andre Russell bowled a stunning over under pressure and picked up two wickets to snatch a seven-run win for his team. The West Indian finished the match with an impressive figure of 4/20.
Earlier, Punjab started with just three foreign players in their lineup – the last IPL team to do so were Mumbai Indians back in 2012. They made two changes to their team for this game – Swapnil Singh and Manan Vohra replaced KC Cariappa and Shaun Marsh. Gautam Gambhir also made a couple of changes to his team with Shakib Al Hasan and Brad Hogg replacing Chris Lynn and Sunil Narine.
Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI Punjab have had contrasting starts to their IPL campaign. Gautam Gambhir has guided his team to five wins, while Punjab has suffered five defeats so far. Murali Vijay's men have been further hampered by the departure of Shaun Marsh from the squad, who was one of their better performers this season.
Punjab won the toss and decided to bowl first, and it was not a surprise considering KKR's record while chasing this season. The Kolkata-based franchise have won five of their six matches while batting second, and their two defeats so far have arrived while defending a target.
Another standout statistic for Kolkata this season has been provided by their opening pair. Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa have managed four 50+ partnerships in their opening eight matches, and they came up with the fifth at Eden Gardens tonight.
The duo was circumspect at the start of the innings. Gambhir and Uthappa were enjoying the new ball when the pacers were using it, but as soon as the spinners came into action, the run rate dropped a lot. They managed just 21 runs between the fourth and the eighth over with Murali Vijay switching between Axar Patel, Gurkeerat Singh, and Swapnil Singh. Finally, in the ninth over Uthappa broke the shackles by lifting Patel over the long-off boundary for a much-required six.
Gambhir brought up his half-century in the 13th over, but it arrived in 42 balls. The 101-run opening partnership was eventually broken via the run-out of Gambhir, and three overs later Uthappa faced the same fate.
Yusuf Pathan and Andre Russell were left with the responsibility of dragging their team out of mediocrity in the final few overs, and they made a valiant attempt at doing so. However, Sandeep Sharma produced a stunning spell at the death and conceded just four runs in the final over. In the end, KKR posted a total of 164/3, which was disappointing considering the number of batsmen they wasted in the dug out.
Brief Scores: Kolkata Knight Riders 164/3 in 20 overs (Robin Uthappa 70(49), Gautam Gambhir 54(45); Sandeep Sharma 0/25) won against Kings XI Punjab 157/9 in 20 overs (Glenn Maxwell 68(42), WriddhimanSaha 24(20); Andre Russell 4/20, Piyush Chawla 2/27)