The likes of Shakib Al Hasan (left) and Jacques Kallis bring a lot of value to the side as they are multi-dimensional cricketers which enables Kolkata Knight Riders to strike the right balance and makes them a formidable unit © AFP


By Nishad Pai Vaidya


Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR) stunning defense of a paltry total against the Auckland Aces at Hyderabad highlighted the depth in their bowling. At 60 for one in the ninth over with the set Lou Vincent in the middle, anybody would have put his money on the New Zealanders to chase down 122 with ease. However, the Kolkata slow bowlers kept pegging them back and put Auckland in a precarious position. Once the spinners had done their job, the pacemen Jacques Kallis and Brett Lee finished off the job and sealed a crucial win for the Knight Riders.


Kolkata were missing the services of Gautam Gambhir, Eoin Morgan and Brad Haddin, but they still fielded a very well-balanced combination. The likes of Kallis, Ryan ten Doeschate, Yusuf Pathan, Shakib Al Hasan and Rajat Bhatia bring a lot of value to the side as they are multi-dimensional cricketers. Kallis, Pathan and ten Doeschate may contribute more with the bat but can be of immense utility with the ball. On the other hand, Al Hasan is very reliable in both departments. Bhatia can score a few quick runs in the lower order and is a tough customer to deal with when he is bowling. The presence of these five all-rounders helps Kolkata strike the right balance and makes them a formidable unit.


When one looks at the scorecard of the game between Auckland and Kolkata, one would be startled to find that the Knight Riders used seven bowlers. Seven bowlers in a T20 game is almost unheard of. One would generally associate that number with a 50 over match but the use of so many bowlers in a T20 is indicative of the enormous pool of bowling resources Kolkata possess. Thus, even if two bowlers fail, they have the requisite back-up to make up for the damage. These options become even handier when you are defending a small total as you try to prevent the opposition batsmen from settling against a particular bowler.


The bowlers used by Kolkata were Brett Lee, Jaydev Unadkat, Iqbal Abdullah, Yusuf Pathan, Jacques Kallis, Rajat Bhatia and Shakib Al Hasan. An interesting fact is that Ryan Ten Doeschate who was a part of the eleven didn’t get an opportunity to bowl. Thus, if you count the Dutchman, Kolkata have a total of eight players in their playing eleven who can roll their arm over.


In the midst of the vast pool of bowlers, Kolkata’s biggest strength is their slow bowling. Abdullah and Al Hasan have formed a successful left-armers’ syndicate. Both have the ability to turn the ball and also flight it to tease the batsmen. Shakib may be feeling at home in the Kolkata camp as he is used to good support from the other left arm spinners even when he plays for Bangladesh. Abdullah is a fantastic bowler and is made to open the bowling on quite a few occasions. His versatility is a huge asset to any side.


Abdullah and Shakib are well supported by Pathan and Bhatia. Pathan can be termed as a fast-off spinner who relies more on the fast darts than the classical turners. In T20 games, his flat deliveries are a handful as the batsmen find it difficult to get away. This phenomenon was evident in the game against Auckland as Pathan effected two caught and bowled dismissals. That in effect changed the match and pushed the momentum back in Kolkata’s favor.


Bhatia is a difficult bowler to deal with in slow conditions. His good line and length makes up for his lack of pace as he pitches it in the right areas. He is the kind of a bowler who can restrict the scoring to good effect and put pressure on the batsmen. If he picks up a wicket along the way it is a bonus as his main job is to contain the rate of scoring. He performed that task brilliantly against Auckland as he literally strangled their batsmen in the middle.


When these bowlers come on in the mid stages of an innings, they apply brakes on the run-rate. In the middle overs, batsmen concentrate on rotating strike and score a boundary whenever possible. But what these slow bowlers do is that they bowl to their field and prevent the singles. The batsmen then try to do something extraordinary and end up losing their wicket.


With Auckland cruising at one stage, these slow bowlers performed the task allotted to them and got their side back into the game. They used the conditions well and set tight fields. They placed a mid wicket fielder in the circle which cut out a large source of singles. These tactics made a low scoring game very interesting and would have had quite a few audiences glued to their television sets.


Hyderabad has proven to be a slow bowlers paradise and Kolkata should go in with the same strategy in their next qualifier. The ball isn’t coming on the bat very well when the slow bowlers are on which has made shot making difficult. Even during the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2011, Kolkata’s slow bowlers were their biggest trump cards in their bowling and if the Knight Riders are to get through to the next round and make further progress, these slow men (If one may say) need to replicate their success and maintain consistency.


(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.”)