Upwards of 65,000 frenzied fans crammed the Eden Gardens on a reasonably pleasant Wednesday (April 3) night in anticipation of a popular home win, and they didn't 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 in quite 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 too, ruled out with back spasms. (Watch NDTV's analysis of the match here)
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 pole out. Lee wasn't quite the destroyer, however. That role was assumed by Sunil Narine, the Player of the Tournament last season when Kolkata blazed to the title. (Scorecard)
Narine, the offpinner, bamboozled the Delhi batsmen with his variations, finishing with figures of 4 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 skipper, notwithstanding. (Check out the match in pics)
Kolkata's chase didn't get off to the best start. Having played out a maiden to Irfan Pathan, 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 killing off the contest.
Gambhir, striking the ball ferociously, and Manoj Tiwary added a further 41 for the third before both fell 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 to 129 for 4 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, put 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, a good platform from which to erect a tall score, when Gambhir brought on Narine. With his fifth delivery, and his first to Warner, Narine procured turn and bounce to extend Warner's misery against spin on Indian soil, Kallis taking a comfortable catch at slip off the resultant outside edge.
Gambhir immediately took Narine off, saving him for the end overs, but Delhi didn't find the going any easier. L Balaji and Rajat Bhatia, masters at change of pace, made the most of the sluggish nature of the surface by mixing things up and bowling with parsimony, forcing the Delhi batsmen to throw caution to the winds. Wickets tumbled in rapid succession as one batsman after another succumbed to the pressure, leaving Jayawardene to wage a solitary battle.
Jayawardene batted with a fluency that deserted his team-mates, biding his time and feasting on Lee's pace towards the closing stages. But at the other end, Narine ripped through the soft underbelly that the Delhi tail was. Narine took 3 for 9 in a three-over second spell to cut out all escape routes, setting the stage for Kolkata's first win in their opening game of the competition in three years.