IPL 2021: Sunil Narine cameo moves Kolkata closer to playoffs

Knight Riders take vital win over Delhi Capitals in tetchy encounter in Sharjah

Sunil Narine carried Kolkata Knight Riders ever closer to the Indian Premier League playoffs following a three-wicket win over Delhi Capitals at Sharjah Cricket Stadium.

Kolkata’s overseas stalwart first made the most of a slow, relaid wicket as he conceded just 18 runs from his four overs, while dismissing Shreyas Iyer and Lalit Yadav.

His 10-ball cameo worth 21 then proved vital to the task of hauling in 128 – a target that was not as easy as it might have been last season at this ground.

The scenes beyond the boundary at this IPL continue to be some way short of those joyous ones when the competition first came to UAE in 2014.

Back then, the chunk of games played out in the Emirates - while security forces back in India focused on elections - were played out in front of packed stands.

The same has not been the case this time, even allowing for the reduced capacity because of Covid safety measures.

When Sandeep Warrier sent down the first ball for Kolkata, there were less than 100 people in the stands.

Sharjah is a welcoming and readily accessible stadium. But having games scheduled for 2pm on a Tuesday presents a challenge in terms of getting people through the gates.

There is always some noise, though. The DJ continued relentlessly, even if his audience was more suited to a hotel lobby than a stadium tour.

Until, at least, it was time for asr prayers towards the end of Delhi’s innings, at which point he announced loudly he would be going on mute.

With little in the way of buzz to lift the players, much of the cricket was low-key.

There were flashpoints, though. In making 39 from 36 balls, Rishabh Pant grew frustrated at being unable to play with his usual freedom.

After failing to get Varun Chakravarty away, he swished at the air but appeared to clip the grille of Kolkata wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik. It was clearly an accident and Pant apologised immediately, but Karthik looked shocked.

Karthik was back in the thick of it in the final over of the Delhi innings, when he had to step in between his captain Eoin Morgan and Ravichandran Ashwin.

Ashwin had just been sent on his way by Tim Southee, the Kolkata seamer, and did not retreat to the dressing room kindly.

Even when the sides swapped around, the niggle persisted, with Avesh Khan celebrating angrily in Rahul Tripathi’s face after the Kolkata batsman chipped up a catch to Steve Smith.

Ashwin got his own back, too. He had Morgan caught at slip, and nearly veered into Morgan, so manic was his celebration.

Kolkata were 67-4 in the 12th over at that stage and it was clear the going was tough. Gone are the days of 2020, when sides would fear having to defend score in excess of 200 at this ground.

Nitish Rana stabilised the innings, though, and he soon found an able ally in the form of Narine.

The West Indies all-rounder enjoyed a good time at the crease if not necessarily a long one.

It provided just the impetus his side needed, though, especially when he launched Kagiso Rabada for six, four and six in the space of three deliveries.

Rana finished unbeaten on 36 not out after he carved the runs which sealed a win that edged Kolkata two points closer to third-placed Royal Challengers Bangalore in the table.

It was Delhi’s first defeat since the season resumed in the UAE a little over a week ago, but they remain handily placed.

Last season’s runners up are second place in the standings, level on 16 points with Chennai Super Kings at the top.

“We want to give 100 per cent, and if it doesn't go our way we will learn and move on,” Pant, the defeated captain, said.

Updated: September 28th 2021, 2:33 PM