On Saturday night, the Kolkata Knight Riders slumped to their first defeat since May 5th, 2014. They played good cricket, but there is little you can do once Chris Gayle has gotten rolling. Even KKR’s famed spin attack – that has been stifling opponents since 2012 – seemed insufficient to take on the Big Jamaican.
I definitely feel that Chris played a major role in RCB’s success, but not in the obvious way. You see, RCB was able to gain momentum and keep the run rate from escalating too high due to the fact that KKR had long gaps of overs where they didn’t have any of their potent bowlers running through overs. And the reason for this can be directly attributed to Chris Gayle. See, Gayle – if you didn’t know – is a left-handed batsman. And most left-handed batsmen, especially those of Chris’ calibre, are known for being able to take on slow orthodox and leg spinners well, because their natural stock deliveries turn into the left-hander. Hence, Gambhir had lost access to two of his main bowlers – Shakib al Hassan and Piyush Chawla – as soon as Gayle had walked out onto the pitch. 8 overs of quality spin down the drain right there. To unlock them, needed to get Gayle out early. This is why I feel he bowled Sunil Narine as early as the second over of the match. If Gayle had fallen to Narine, Shakib and Piyush would be able bowl, and RCB would’ve had a tough path ahead.
However, Gayle survived Narine’s first 2 overs and Morne Morkel’s 3. Now Gambhir was under the pump. Morkel had removed Virat Kohli (who had decided to open the innings), but didn’t have the important wicket of Gayle yet. However, to give Narine another over would leave his death bowling reserves precariously low. Now this situation I think is the result of something that happened before the match even began: the dropping of Umesh Yadav. Dropping their only other specialist quick denied Gambhir another option to bowl the death, and more importantly, another speedster he could throw at Gayle early on. In fact, it was Yadav that removed Gayle the last time these two teams met. Leaving him out for KC Cariappa left Gambhir one less bowler who he could bring in later on. This raises questions as to whether Cariappa should have been brought in ahead of Piyush Chawla instead of Yadav. As shown, Gambhir trusted Cariappa to bowl to Gayle, something that he clearly did not trust Chawla with. If this had been done, Gambhir would have had four extra overs he could gamble with, and would not have been choked for resources as he was.
After Narine and Morkel were removed from the attack, Cariappa and Andre Russell came in to bowl. Neither could make make any impact against Gayle. Then, no one else to turn to, Yusuf Pathan – the part-time off-break bowler – was handed the ball. He produced immediate success, crashing into the stumps of Dinesh Karthik and Mandeep Singh. However, neither was Chris Gayle, so the objective had not been completed. Yusuf was handed an additional 3 overs, with the same purpose in mind, but this turned out to be more of a blessing for RCB than anything else, as both Gayle and AB de Villiers took Pathan apart, ending his spell at 4-0-40-2. This ensured that RCB’s required run rate never creeped above 11, and hence they were at relative ease, which might have made all the difference.