The wicket at the Eden Gardens hardly has had any assistance for the spinners so far this season. Simon Katich, Kolkata Knight Riders’ batting coach, had even joked on the eve of their clash against the Chennai Super Kings that his spinners will sooner or later have to have a word with the curators. Prior to the game on Sunday (April 14), only six wickets in three games had fallen to spin. However, returning career-best figures of 4 for 27 on a wicket for the batsmen, Imran Tahir, the CSK legspinner, burst that myth and convincingly showcased that all you need is skill, in conjunction with the art of observation.
MS Dhoni, despite the wicket assisting pace over spin, opted to play three spinners. After KKR had gotten off to a solid start negating their pacers with ease, spin was introduced from both ends. Mitchell Santner struck with a tossed up delivery in his first over that Sunil Narine went after. With Chris Lynn and Nitish Rana fairly comfortable against Ravindra Jadeja and Santner, Tahir was called upon in the ninth over.
Tahir is known to bolt his deliveries in, using his googlies effectievly and frequently, almost as his stock ball, in recent times. His subtle change in angles and accuracy makes run-scoring difficult for the opposition and he tied down Nitish Rana and Lynn in his opening over. It was the leg-break that dipped in late that did the damage, not once, but twice in the same over as Tahir reduced KKR from 79 for 1 to 80 for 3 in no time. Rana found Faf du Plessis at long on with a swipe going wrong, while Robin Uthappa got a leading edge to du Plessis in almost a repeat dismissal, where the South African took a spectacular diving catch.
Dhoni then saved Tahir for later, more specifically for Andre Russell. He went back to Santner and Jadeja, who was hit for three successive sixes by Lynn, and together the pair conceded 40 in three overs, forcing Dhoni to being back Tahir. The legspinner struck on the second ball of the over with a flatter delivery that Lynn couldn’t get hold of. Enter Andre Russell. Four, dot, six – Tahir’s ploy was not working. He tossed up delivery first, then pulled the length back a fraction n the second, and the leg-break that was too full was punished.
Two balls remained in the over, and all Russell had to do was see them off. All Tahir needed to do was bowl the leg-break outside off, and contain Russell. It was the supreme battle of egos. Another leg-break, this time a tad slower, and Russell was done in for. He slog-swept it off the toe-end to long on, where substitute fielder Dhruv Shorey, who was standing a couple of feet in from the boundary line, leaned in and pouched it safely. Tahir 1, Russell 0. Tahir ran across the Eden in joy, picking up two wickets in an over – twice, getting rid of the set Lynn for 82 before the mighty Dre Russ was a victim of his own ego.
It was Dhoni’s idea to bowl the slower one, Tahir later revealed. He also credited the CSK captain for his inputs through the season that has Tahir proudly wearing the purple cap with 13 wickets.
“I could’ve bowled two more dot balls to him, bowl one dot ball and give him one, but I wanted to be in the challenge. I wanted to get him out; as simple as that,” Tahir said. “He hit me for a six and hit me for a four, that’s fine, but I got his wicket which was very important for the team. Happy to have got him because he is such a dangerous batsman in the death overs.
“I had plans before this game, and even when we played in Chennai. That helps a lot to play a team and then play them again after a few days. I bowled according to how the captain wanted me to bowl. It always is beneficial taking advice from Mr Dhoni. He’s been helping me a lot this season. Credit goes to him than me. There are a few things which I don’t think of, but he comes and tells me what I need to bowl, which areas and where the guy is looking to hit. It’s been great working with him. We’re playing good cricket at the moment and the reason for that is we’re working hard.”
It was in conjunction with what Katich had said last evening about Dhoni’s preparation and homework. Dhoni had brought in Tahir at the right time, and with the Russell threat imminent, the timing couldn’t have been better. The result of losing Lynn and Russell in the space of five balls was that no boundaries were scored in the last four overs, with KKR able to get just 29 in the last five, to finish with 161. With Suresh Raina’s unbeaten fifty, CSK ended up chasing it down with no fuss, picking up their fourth win on the trot.
CSK 2, KKR 0.