Among the many awards handed out after every Indian Premier League game, there’s one called ‘Super Striker of the Match’. After Kolkata Knight Riders’ 34-run victory over Mumbai Indians on Sunday, there were several players waiting to step up for the presentation ceremony.

One of them was Andre Russell, having scored an unbeaten 80 from 40 balls. Although he did eventually come forward to pick up an award – Player of the Match – he wasn’t adjudged the ‘Super Striker’. That recognition was reserved for Hardik Pandya. Yes, in a T20 contest these days, scoring close to a century at a strike-rate of 200 can still leave you second best. That’s the level power-hitting is at in today’s cricket.

On Sunday, Eden Gardens witnessed a staggering 430 runs from 240 deliveries. Russell’s onslaught may have proved to be the clincher, but even Kolkata fans will vouch for the fact that Hardik’s 91 from 34 was the best knock of the night. All in all, the match was an exhibition of the purest form of ball-striking.

Asked to bat on a belter of a pitch, Dinesh Karthik’s men went on to post the highest team total of this year’s IPL – 232/2 from 20 overs. It was an impressive effort from a side that was on a six-match losing streak, with its playoff hopes hanging by a thread.

The foundation was laid by the openers – Chris Lynn and Shubman Gill. While the Australian scored a quick-fire 54 off 29 before perishing in the 10th over, it was the young Indian batsman who made a big statement with a mature innings of 76 off 45. Gill bided his time as Lynn went on the offensive, before shifting gears and registering his highest score in T20s. In a season where KKR have wasted him lower down the order for the most part, the 19-year-old served another reminder of the immense talent he possesses.

Andre Russell show, again

Andre Russell send one into the stands on Sunday — Prashant Bhoot / Sportzpics for BCCI
Andre Russell send one into the stands on Sunday — Prashant Bhoot / Sportzpics for BCCI

As Lynn walked back to the shed, there was a loud roar in the stadium, one that is reserved for big players. Andre Russell was jogging out to the middle. This was the highest he had batted all season. Now, the West Indian had been in the news for the preceding 24 hours after giving a rather explosive press conference on Saturday. Frustrated at his team’s dismal run despite his superhuman efforts, he’d said: “We have a good team but if you make bad decisions then you will always lose games and that’s what we’ve been doing.”

The KKR management had finally decided it was time to hand Russell more responsibility. He’d been batting way down the order through the season but on Sunday, he walked out with more than 10 overs left in the innings. And yet again, he didn’t disappoint.

The victory against Mumbai was Kolkata’s fifth of the season, and Russell has been Player of the Match in four of those triumphs. However, unlike his previous three match-winning knocks where he scored close to fifty each time in less than 20 deliveries, he took a while to settle in this time around. The Jamaican got his first six runs off 11 balls, before getting to 30 off 23. It was an uncharacteristic yet sensible approach from a man wanting to show to his team’s management that there was more to him than just the slam-bang at the death.

The final three overs were when Russell showed his true colours. He scored his last 50 runs off merely 17 deliveries. Such was his belief that he even refused to take singles and give an established hitter like Karthik the strike. Russell ended with eight sixes and six boundaries, notching up his fourth half-century of the season. Not even the likes of Jasprit Bumrah [0/44] and Lasith Malinga [0/48] were spared. The 30-year-old has now amassed 486 runs in IPL 2019, at an average of 69.42 and a strike-rate of 207.69.

Hardik stunner

Hardik Pandya in full flow on Sunday — Saikat Das / Sportzpics for BCCI
Hardik Pandya in full flow on Sunday — Saikat Das / Sportzpics for BCCI

However, Russell’s effort with the bat on Sunday was bettered by arguably the most brutal knock of the season so far. That of Hardik Pandya. The 25-year-old had scored 264 runs from 145 deliveries before walking out to bat against the Kolkata Knight Riders. He’d been the most consistent batsman for Mumbai Indians despite playing the role of a finisher. The most number of balls he’d faced in a single innings was 19. This time, though, he’d come out to bat with 70 balls still remaining. And just like Russell, he showed there’s much more to him than a quick cameo.

Mumbai needed over 11.5 runs an over from the get-go. But they could only reach 58/4 in the ninth over, with captain Rohit Sharma back in the pavilion as well. The visitors required 175 runs from 70 balls at that time. A monumental ask. Hardik, though, wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

The right-hander whacked the second, fourth, sixth, ninth, twelfth, thirteenth and seventeenth ball he faced for six. It was carnage. Rishabh Pant had scored the fastest half-century of this year’s IPL in 18 balls, but Hardik trumped it by getting to his fifty in just 17 deliveries. It was six-hitting of the highest class, not a single mistimed stroke.

There’s a certain disdain with which Hardik hits spinners. You toss it up and be rest assured the ball is going to find its way to the stands. Of the nine sixes that he hit, seven came against Piyush Chawla [4] and Sunil Narine [3]. And the other two were helicopter shots off Harry Gurney.

When he got out, Mumbai needed 45 from 12 balls. They’d come a long, long way from when he had come in to bat. Had other batsmen, especially Kieron Pollard [20 off 21] and Krunal Pandya [24 off 18], had better outings, the three-time champions could well have pulled-off a miraculous win.

“If somebody would have played a hand with Hardik, we lost by 30 runs, you never know,” said Rohit after the match. “If Krunal had got a couple of big hits, we would have had a proper chance in the game,” added Hardik.

Mumbai’s inability to get over the line was largely due to the best bowler of the match – Russell. Yes, he had a good run with the ball as well. In a match where every other bowler, barring Sandeep Warrier [0/29], got whacked and the scoring rate was close to 11 runs an over throughout, the West Indian returned with remarkable figures of 2/25 from his four overs.

Kolkata Knight Riders’ win was a momentous one for the men in purple. Coming into the contest, they had lost the last six games in this season, the last four games at the Eden Gardens, and the last eight games against Mumbai Indians. The victory breathes life into their campaign. But Sunday night will be remembered most for the awe-inspiring ball-striking from Andre Russell and Hardik Pandya.