Dinesh Karthik returned to scoring ways in superlative fashion, but it was the young duo of Riyan Parag and Jofra Archer who stole all the limelight with their match-winning cameos as Rajasthan Royals defeated Kolkata Knight Riders by three wickets at Eden Gardens on Thursday (April 25).
Karthik hit seven fours and nine maximums en route to 50-ball 97* - his highest IPL score as he single-handedly propelled Kolkata to 175 for 6 in their 20 overs. In response, Piyush Chawla (3 for 20) and Sunil Narine (2 for 25) reduced Rajasthan to 123 for 6 before Parag and Archer joined hands to add 43 runs in 21 deliveries for the seventh wicket to help Rajasthan pull off a stunning chase and keep themselves alive in the tournament. With this defeat, Kolkata have now lost six games in a row.
On a surface offering pace and bounce, Varun Aaron (2 for 20) knocked over Chris Lynn for a duck to ensure Kolkata got off to a worst possible start. Both Aaron and Oshane Thomas kept hitting the length and made life difficult for Kolkata batsmen. It took some time before Shubman Gill and Nitish Rana got used to the pace and crafted a couple of eye-pleasing shots square of the wicket.
Just when the two batsmen were starting to look at ease, Aaron castled Gill for 14 with an outstanding inswinging slower delivery. Rana stayed for a while before he hit one straight into the hands of Aaron off Shreyas Gopal's bowling when he was on 21.
Such was the bounce on offer that one of Jaydev Unadkat's slower deliveries hit Narine on the helmet. The home team were 49 for 3 at the end of 10 overs before Karthik and Narine smashed Gopal for 25 runs. After Karthik slammed the legspinner for a six and three fours, Narine concluded the over with a maximum over deep mid-wicket. The Trinidadian however was run out in the next over for 11 and even Andre Russell (11) couldn't contribute much as he became Thomas' maiden IPL victim.
Karthik paced his innings beautifully and pounced on every bad delivery at the start. The wicketkeeper-batsman was super aggressive against Unadkat was either too full or too short. He smoked three fours and six sixes in the last four overs as Kolkata accumulated 60 runs in that period. He might have missed out on a century but his 97* is now the second highest individual score by a Kolkata batsman after Brendon McCullum's celebrated 158*.
In reply, Ajinkya Rahane and Sanju Samson got Rajasthan off to a rapid start. Having scored a century in his last match, Rahane continued from where he left against Delhi Capitals. The right-hander once again played with newly-found freedom and took Yarra Prithviraj to the cleaners. Men in Pink raced to 53 for no loss in five overs before Narine pinned Rahane for 21-ball 34 to give Kolkata the first breakthrough.
Just like Rahane, Sanju Samson (15-ball 22) too couldn't convert his start into a big score as he was undone by Piyush Chawla's googly. While Rajasthan spinners struggled to make any impact, Narine and Chawla kept things very tight. The two gave hardly anything away in the middle overs and got rid of Steven Smith (2), Ben Stokes (11) and Stuart Binny (11) to derail Rajasthan's chase.
Needing 77 in seven overs, the burden fell on the young shoulders of Parag and Gopal. While Parag didn't look very fluent at the start, Gopal crafted four fours, three in three, to keep his team in the hunt. But Prasidh Krishna had Gopal caught for 8-ball 18 at long off before things got out of hand for Kolkata.
Things however got interesting when Archer walked out to bat and along with Parag blasted Narine for 15 runs in an over to bring the equation down to 31 off 18. That's when Parag took over and hit two sixes in three deliveries, but was hit wicket in the penultimate over to give Kolkata a sniff chance.
With 9 runs required in the final over, Archer tonked 4 and 6 in the first two deliveries to give his team a sensational victory.