Chris Gayle announced himself in Pepsi IPL 2015 with a 56-ball 96 that powered the Royal Challengers Bangalore to a 3-wicket win over the defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders. Set to chase 178, Gayle took his time to get going before exploding at the back end of the chase and took his team past the finish line with six balls to spare. RCB’s victory also meant that KKR’s 10-match winning streak was brought to a halt.
KKR must have seen the ominous signs with Gayle applying himself. The Jamaican wasn’t too ruffled despite wickets falling at the other end. Virat Kohli perished for 13, AB de Villiers made 28 from 13 balls, and poor shot selection caused the downfall of the rest of the batsmen.
But Gayle waited for the right moment and for the right bowler to cut loose. On a day when he breached the 7000 runs mark in T20 cricket, the RCB opener picked on the 17th and 18th overs bowled by Shakib-al-Hasan and Sunil Narine respectively to force the pace; he hit Shakib for successive sixes and then picked boundaries off successive Narine deliveries.
One stroke away from what would have been his 14th T20 century and with his team on the brink of a win, Gayle was late in calling for a second run and was beaten by a throw from Manish Pandey. He was dismissed for 96 in an innings studded with seven boundaries and as many sixes – most of which would have cleared the fence of even the biggest grounds in the world.
It was in a way fitting that Abu Nechim, who impressed with the ball earlier in the evening, scored the winning hit; he had the company of Harshal Patel at the other end.
Much like RCB earlier in the evening, KKR too had a rough day on the field. Catches were put down and that had a definite impact on the outcome of the match. Yusuf Pathan surprisingly turned out to be the most successful bowler for the hosts; bowling his off-breaks, he picked up the wickets of Mandeep Singh and Dinesh Karthik. Morne Morkel, debutant KC Cariappa and Shakib-al-Hasan were the other wicket-takers for the hosts.
Earlier in the evening, after being asked to take first strike, the KKR opening pair of Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa wrested the initiative quickly with a 81-run opening stand, with both batsmen contributing almost evenly in the partnership. The partnership was broken when Uthappa’s attempt to hit over long on landed in the laps of Darren Sammy; he made 35 from 28 balls and hit four boundaries during his stay in the middle.
Gambhir carried on to bring up his fifty in the 13th over – his 25th half-century in the IPL – but perished in the following over when he picked out Mandeep Singh at midwicket. Suryakumar Yadav and Manish Pandey contributed cameos before they were dismissed off successive deliveries in the 17th over.
The match hung in the balance at that point, but Andre Russell’s blitz at the end ensured it would be the hosts who would head into the break on a high. Russell, out to bat in the 17th over, struck six boundaries and two fours and raced to 41 from 17 balls as KKR finished their allotted 20 overs at 177 for 6.
RCB’s performance in the field is something they will want to forget in a hurry. From the very first ball, when Abu Nechim Ahmed went down too early and allowed the ball to race past him to the boundary, to AB de Villiers’ dropped catch, there were several instances when RCB’s fielding was not up to the mark.
Abu Nechim and leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal were RCB’s best bowlers finishing with identical figures of 4-0-28-1. Harshal Patel and Varun Aaron were the other wicket-takers, though their eight overs combined cost the team 72 runs. Sean Abbott, playing his first IPL match, finished with figures of 0-36 from three overs.
Kolkata Knight Riders 177-6 in 20.0 Overs (Gautam Gambhir 58, Andre Russell 41*) beat Royal Challengers Bangalore (Chris Gayle 96, Yusuf Pathan 2-40)
Man of the Match: Chris Gayle, for his 56-ball 96