Kolkata Knight Riders sealed the second place in the points table with a crushing 34-run victory over hosts Pune Warriors India in their final group league encounter of the Indian Premier League on Saturday. Defending a total of 136 on a difficult pitch, the KKR spinners restricted Pune to a paltry 102 for 8. While KKR with 21 points will get a maximum of two matches in the playoffs to qualify, the Pune led by Sourav Ganguly hit a new low losing nine consecutive matches - a record in the IPL. If Deccan Chargers manage to win the last match, Pune will finish last in the points table.
The KKR spinners did a commendable job. Shakib Al Hasan (2 for 28 and 42 runs) was chosen Man of the Match for his all-round show, while Yusuf Pathan (2 for 12), Iqbal Abdulla (1 for 20), Sunil Narine (2 for 15) everyone chipped in with crucial wickets.
The fighting spirit was simply not there in Pune whose campaign was rocked primarily due to poor form of their skipper who had one of the worst strike rates (less than 100) for a top order batsman in T20 cricket. The target of 137 wasn't big enough but the slowness of the track with some sharp turn definitely made things difficult for the home team whose confidence had already hit nadir. With two left-arm spinners and two offspinners in the KKR line-up, it became a Herculean task for the hosts’ batsmen to negotiate.
Robin Uthappa's horrible IPL ended with a tame catch at covers off left-arm spinner Abdulla. Michael Clarke was stumped off Yusuf Pathan's bowling. Skipper Ganguly (5), who is still undecided about whether he should call it quits after his worst IPL season, padded a straighter one. With four wickets down within first 11 overs, it wasn't an easy job for the inexperienced Pune batsmen to negotiate quality spin-attack.
Earlier, some disciplined bowling effort by Pune helped them restrict KKR to 136 for 4. Brendon McCullum (41) and Shakib (42) added 67 runs for the third wicket in 7.3 overs on a track where stroke-making was difficult but still it looked that KKR were 20 runs short. For Pune, left-arm seamer Wayne Parnell was the pick of the bowlers with impressive figures of 2 for 18, while Bhuveneshwar Kumar and Michael Clarke also got a wicket each.
KKR's in-form captain Gautam Gambhir was out early when he failed to clear the mid-on fielder off Parnell's bowling. The opening pair managed only 21 in 4.3 overs. McCullum and Jacques Kallis (13) couldn't up the ante on a pitch where the ball wasn't exactly coming on to the bat. A desperate Kallis tried to hit the left-arm spin of Clarke inside-out but only managed to bottom-edge it onto the stumps.
Then McCullum-Shakib partnership started. The right-left combination did nudge singles and twos as KKR crawled to 45 for 2 in the first 10 overs. It was the 12th over of the innings when McCullum, who was playing sedately, cut loose hitting a couple of boundaries. In the next over, Shakib hit Clarke for two huge sixes and in between those two shots was dropped by Parnell in the deep mid-wicket. The 100 came up in the 15th over with 56 being scored in between overs 11th and 15th.
However once McCullum was gone trying to clear extra cover, the scoring rate dipped once again. Shakib was also bowled by Bhuveneshwar. Yusuf Pathan (15 not out) and Manoj Tiwary (8 not out) couldn't produce much fireworks in the final few overs.