Vijay Shankar, David Miller lead Gujarat Titans to a comfortable win over KKR. Cricket

Vijay Shankar has a thing for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) bowling. On a wicket where the ball was gripping, with the match slightly tilted in KKR’s favour, the Gujarat Titans (GT) batsman spoiled Andre Russell’s 35th birthday by smashing the spinners. In the process, they turned KKR’s strength into their weak heel to seal a seven-wicket win on Saturday.

Vijay Shankar (left) of Gujarat Titans celebrates after scoring his half-century (50 runs) during an Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match (AFP)

Shankar had scored 63 off 24 balls in Ahmedabad, but Rinku Singh’s six-hitting ability had put him behind. Here, his unbroken partnership of 51* (24b; 2×4; 5×6) and David Miller’s 32* off 18 balls, and his 87 off 41 balls, ensured that the defending champions completed their all-win record with that kind of ease. Maintained with what did not. Looks possible when they got together in the 12th over.

A mix of light and shadow, KKR’s innings mirrored the conditions at Eden. The scorching sun gave way to light rain as GT opted to field. Rahmanullah Gurbaz gave them the start and Russell had some power towards the end but as the Jamaican bigwig said on television at the innings break, 179/7 were probably 20 runs short. This happened because nobody batted around Gurbaz.

Shardul Thakur was the victim of a catch that will remind people of a certain kind of memory at Lord’s in 1983; Mohit Sharma was running back to pouch what looked like a nice chip. Venkatesh Iyer showed poor judgment against Josh Little, with the Ireland player performing player of the match on the day with a spell of 4-0-25-2. Nitish Rana went three balls after Iyer’s departure.

At the halfway point, GT were slightly ahead at 89/1. KKR pulled things back when Sunil Narine ended a fluent innings from Shubman Gill after Hardik Pandya was trapped leg-before by Harshit Rana, after going wicketless for five matches, as Umesh Yadav was injured. Chants of “KKR, KKR” went up around the stadium but Shankar and Miller smartly silenced them. 17 runs off KKR’s best over; GT challenged with 24 in 17th, 18 in 15th and 19 in 3rd.

After Iyer and Rana fell, Rinku Singh and Gurbaz rebuilt with a 47-run stand. But Singh struggled with timing, leaving Sharma to swing for a six. No such problem for Gurbaz. Jason Roy was preferred over the Afghan for three matches, but with the Englishman ruled out with a back problem, Gurbaz resumed where he had left off at the venue. Against Royal Challengers Bangalore, he scored 57 runs. Against the defending champion, Gurbaz (81 – 39b; 5×4; 7×6) improved on that with shots all around the park.

Two sixes off Hardik Pandya swung Gurbaz into his arms and it didn’t stop until he fell on a full toss to left-arm wrist spinner Noor Ahmed, taking a well-judged catch from Rashid Khan. Picking up the length early, Gurbaz hit Khan for two sixes and three fours but also played a text book forward defensive shot. With a lofted off-drive off Ahmed for a six, he broke the shackles that saw KKR go without a boundary for 22 balls.

When Khan tried to fly, Gurbaz smoked him for a six over long-on followed by a four through midwicket. GT’s favorite bowler was dismissed for 54 runs in four overs.

Struggling with the left-arm bowler’s natural angle and deliveries behind his length, Little could not tackle Gurbaz, the only bowler. Like Mohammed Shami, Little bowled 12 dot balls, five of which were in the 11th over. Despite Russell’s power-packed 34 (19b; 3×4, 2×6), Ahmed and Little ensured KKR could not get going in the last four overs, scoring 42 runs. Captain Pandya said, “He got us back in the game.”

Titans unable to match the field – Suyash Sharma dropping Miller for 26 off Russell could be the moment KKR miss out on a play-off spot – and Gill and Pandya building partnerships like Miller and Shankar In, KKR fell short despite their moments. This has been his story of the season.

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