Kolkata, April 25 (IANS): Under-fire skipper Dinesh Karthik sent a strong message to his critics with an unbeaten 97 as Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) posted a challenging 175/6 in 20 overs against Rajasthan Royals in an Indian Premier League game here on Thursday.
Facing flak for not returning to the city after their fifth straight defeat to Sunrisers Hyderabad and going to Mumbai, Karthik, who hasn't been among runs, remained unbeaten, with his score of 50 balls including seven fours and nine sixes.
This is Karthik's highest score in the IPL, with his previous best being 86.
On a day Andre Russell (14) failed after a strong of good performances, KKR made up for their sloppy start to score 126 runs in the last ten overs after being 49/3 at the halfway stage.
Karthik pushed himself up the order at No. 4 to recover from a slow start -- he was 3 off 10 balls initially -- to pace his innings to perfection as he sent the likes of Jofra Archer, Jaydev Unadkat and Shreyas Gopal to the cleaners.
The hosts were jolted early by the returning Varun Aaron (2/20) who bowled a dream first spell (3-1-10-2) to clean up Chris Lynn (0) who chopped a superfast delivery back onto his stumps in the first over of the match which was a wicket maiden as KKR's first runs came off four leg-byes.
The 29-year old injury-prone pacer then got rid of Shubman Gill (14) with a beauty, pitching well outside off stump to swing sharply back in as Gill came down on it with an angled bat, getting a slight inside edge onto his stumps.
Gopal sent Nitish Rana (21) back with a googly which the southpaw slapped to Aaron at cover point trying to cut to bring Karthik to the crease.
At the halfway stage, KKR were struggling to score when Karthik decided to up the ante by taking on Gopal.
The under-fire stumper batsman clubbed the first six of the innings in the 11th over, and then went on to hit a hattrick of fours and a six in the last ball as Gopal leaked 25 runs.
Karthik showed exceptional timing to flick Archer off his hips in the next over, but at the other end some poor running from Sunil Narine (11) cost him as Russell came out to bat.
The big-hitting West Indies allrounder, who has been their main player till now, could not reproduce the magic despite being dropped twice, as he mistimed a pull to Ryan Parag at deep midwicket off Oshane Thomas.
The day, though, belonged to Karthik as put behind a series of poor shows to roar back to form.
Brief scores: Kolkata Knight Riders 175/6 in 20 overs (Dinesh Karthik 97, Varun Aaron 2/20)