Knight Riders Emerge as IPL Dark Horses Thanks to Their New Robin Reliant

Richard MorganContributor IMay 20, 2014

Pune Warriors batsman Robin Uthappa watches his shot during their Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket match against Royal Challengers Bangalore in Bangalore, India, Tuesday, April 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)
Aijaz Rahi/Associated Press

Kolkata Knight Riders skipper Gautam Gambhir has made no pretence of the fact his side much prefers to chase down totals in this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL), and with in-form opener Robin Uthappa in his lineup, you can understand why.

Gambhir, as it turned out, called correctly at the toss on Tuesday and so wasted little time in inserting the more fancied Chennai Super Kings in front of 60,000 raucous fans at Eden Gardens in what was the first contest that the Knight Riders had played so far at the mecca of cricket in IPL 7.

And with two more matches still to come in the Bay of Bengal (as well as one knockout clash) and Uthappa in the form of his life, then Kolkata must now be considered a serious bet to repeat their 2012 IPL triumph in Bangalore on 1 June after the eight-wicket thrashing they handed out to MS Dhoni’s men.

However, no one in the ground would have been able to predict at the halfway stage that this contest would end anticlimactically with still two overs left to be bowled after Chennai had posted a seemingly competitive total of 154 for four.

Then again, given the run of form that both Kolkata as a team and Uthappa as an individual have been in of late, perhaps it was not that much of a surprise after all, with the franchise having now won their last five matches in a row and all when chasing too.

And it can be no coincidence either that their winning run started when the 28-year-old was moved up the order to open alongside his skipper, with the pair having since responded by registering two century and three half-century partnerships along the way, including a 64-run stand to get things going on Tuesday.

But it is Uthappa, though, who has been his team’s stand-out performer, with the right-hander seemingly in the form of his life in this shorter form of the game having compiled seven consecutive scores of 40 or more now in this year’s tournament.

In fact, it must now be at the stage where when the batsman walks out to the middle to open the innings he just expects to make runs, something Uthappa did right from the very first ball of Kolkata’s reply when he creamed Ben Hilfenhaus sweetly through the covers for four to get proceedings under way in style.

Sure, Uthappa enjoyed the odd bit of good fortune along the way after being dropped at first slip having made just six and 24, the first offering a real dolly that was shelled by the normally reliable Ravichandran Ashwin.

However, in between those let-offs the occasional India limited-overs international kept the home crowd royally entertained with an exhibition of batting on both sides of the wicket, although his cover driving off the front foot was particularly pleasing on the eye, and all while keeping so still and balanced at the crease.

And even when the Super Kings’ vast array of dangerous spinners were brought on to try and stem the flow of runs, the easy-on-the-eye Uthappa still continued to score at a healthy lick, with one lovely late jab off Ravindra Jadeja bringing up his half-century off only 29 deliveries.

Thanks to man-of-the-match Uthappa, the back of the run chase had been broken, with the Knight Riders posting their highest 10-over score of the competition as a result as they cruised to victory in the end, with their star man’s overall contribution being a hugely impressive 67 runs from just 39 balls, including 10 fours and a six at an eye-catching run-rate of 171.79.

And if Uthappa carries on in this rich vein of form, then surely a recall to the India Twenty20 international side for the first time in over two years will be just around the corner.