Two expertly paced innings from Jacques Kallis (72) and Manish Pandey (64) were integral to the Kolkata Knight Riders' opening-night match win over defending champions Mumbai Indians in Abu Dhabi on April 16.
The Knight Riders, batting first after winning the toss—like Mumbai Indians later—adopted a foundational batting strategy, looking to build a platform before accelerating later in the innings.
After losing captain Gautam Gambhir (zero) early to a devilish Lasith Malinga (4-23) yorker, the Knight Riders had crawled to 63-1 after 10 overs, having hit just one six and four fours, and the pressure was mounting on Kallis and Pandey.
However, with the boundary rope set all the way back, fours and sixes were difficult to come by, and the pairing were content to run the ones and twos with sensible manipulation and rotation of the strike.
Admittedly, at the time the pair’s insouciance appeared alarmingly casual. It was certainly a strategy lined with risk, for had one, or indeed, both of the pairing failed to kick on, it would've left their team with an up-hill task to set an imposing total and they could both be accused of wasting balls to get in, without kicking on.
Such fears were quickly allayed, however, as both batsmen suddenly found their groove, with the 15th over, bowled by Pragyan Ojha (0-36), being struck for 20, and the 16th over from Kieron Pollard (0-19) being hit for 15.
Watching Kallis flick, guide and drive—as he did in this the shortest and most brutal of cricket’s formats—was like watching Picasso paint a masterpiece with a spray can.
Kallis’ tactics in Twenty20 cricket are regularly questioned. There is no doubt that his slow-burning crescendo approach can be highly destructive to his side’s strategy, but when it comes off, it appears masterful. Yesterday, his class shone through against an impressive bowling attack comprising high-class international bowlers, and he timed his acceleration brilliantly.
Pandey too played a pleasing innings with one particular in-to-out cover-drive lofted over the infield evoking memories of Rahul Dravid at his very best and indeed reemphasised the place for elegance in this blitzkrieg format.
The 131-run partnership was ended in the 17th over when Pandey was bowled by Malinga, and Kallis followed him back to the dugout shortly after, but by then, the damage had been done.
A colourful five-ball cameo from Suryakumar Yadav (13), including an outrageous flick shot, pushed KKR up to an impressive 163.
The Knight Riders will certainly have been pleased with that score and indeed with their platform-to-acceleration strategy that worked well. However, they should bear in mind heading forward that such innings as Kallis and Pandey played will be repeated rarely.
What’s more, they should also recognise the danger of failing to utilise their middle-order powerhouses, Robin Uthappa, Shakib Al Hasan, Yusuf Pathan and Yadav. If such players are introduced too late, the pressure of the scoreboard could corrupt the simplicity of their technique.
Such a predicament is exactly what the Mumbai Indians experienced, who clearly demonstrated the dangers of planning late-order acceleration.
Like KKR, the Indians lost a batsman early, when Mike Hussey (three) became the first of four Sunil Narine (4-20) victims when he was bowled through the gate. Aditya Tare (24), Ambati Rayudu (48) and Rohit Sharma (27) all then threatened to play the innings Kallis and Pandey played as Mumbai ticked along.
However, they fell before they could inject the impetus KKR’s pairing did. Thus when Mumbai’s explosive duo of Pollard and Corey Anderson came together, the asking rate was too steep for even they, the most destructive of batsmen to surmount.
The Knight Riders admittedly bowled excellently. Morne Morkel’s two two-over spells were fast and hostile. (He seems a far more threatening bowler when he attacks the crease in his run-up, for any sense of lethargy in his approach appears to filter through his entire action.)
Morkel’s impressive form will be seen as a bonus for KKR, who will base their bowling strategy around their spinners. Indeed, there were times during the Mumbai innings when you felt it was more likely that a three-year-old would read Geoffrey Chaucer than any of the batsmen would read Narine.
Gambhir too deserves acclaim for his captaincy, which was flexible and saw him bowl the right bowlers at the right times. Kolkata’s next match is on Saturday against the Delhi Daredevils in Dubai.
The Mumbai Indians already have problems to solve ahead of their second match, also on Saturday, against the Royal Challengers Bangalore.
While they’ll certainly be tempted to give this strategy another go, they need to establish how to manage their two star overseas batsmen, Anderson and Pollard, because right now, they are batting in the same place performing the same role. The team could surely get greater value from their skills by assigning them different roles.
Perhaps Anderson could be promoted toward the top of the order, and someone like Rayudu could be shifted down as an insurance policy. He and Pollard could perhaps bat interchangeably, depending on the situation. The form of their spinners, particularly Ojha will also be a concern, but it is early days and there's a long way still to go.