The strong turn-out at Eden Gardens was left to go home disappointed as Kings XI Punjab prevailed by two runs in a low-scoring but see-saw match against Kolkata Knight Riders. Defending a total of 135, Punjab were in control of the game for 15 overs before Debabrata Das hit some cool boundaries to give Kolkata hope. It all came down to the final over when the home team needed nine runs but some clever changes of pace from Harmeet Singh sealed a humdinger.
Slow bowling proved the story of the day. Punjab had struggled against Kolkata’s $700,000 signing Sunil Narine, who confounded the batsmen with his knuckle ball, a variation delivered with a loose wrist and twist of two fingers, on his way to a five-wicket haul. But, defending a total of 135, the visitors were indebted to a double-wicket over from Piyush Chawla, Bhargav Bhatt’s two crucial wickets and Harmeet’s back-of-the-hand legbreaks at the death.
The mood of both teams was evident on the first ball of Kolkata’s reply, which saw Jacques Kallis scamper a quick single and mid-on knock down the stumps with an accurate throw. Kolkata had to work hard during their chase of 131 at this venue two days ago and though 136 wasn’t the most threatening of targets on a track assisting spin, their batsmen had their task cut out. Kallis was plucked one-handed by Paras Dogra, and after hitting four sweet boundaries Gautam Gambhir checked his stroke and popped a return catch to Dimitri Mascarenhas.
Punjab pulled things back superbly from here on, conceding just two boundaries between the fifth and 16th overs while picking up four wickets. Manvinder Bisla and Manoj Tiwary were allowed to get their eye in, knocking the singles around, but the lack of boundaries meant that with each quiet over Punjab were making it tougher for the home team. At 73 for 2, KKR were in a safe place but Bhatt’s return for the 12th produced the breakthrough, as Tiwary was adjudged lbw on the sweep for a 27-ball 21. As so often happens, the fall of a wicket brought another. Bisla played all over a googly from Chawla and was bowled for 27 off 25. It got worse for Kolkata three balls later when Yusuf Pathan missed a sweep and was bowled around his legs for 0.
Chawla kept tossing it up and was rewarded with another wicket. Shakib Al Hasan heaved and top-edged a return catch to the bowler and at 88 for 6, Punjab were all over Kolkata. Needing 41 from five overs, Debabrata Das smacked consecutive fours off Harmeet in the 17th over and smoked Mascarenhas past long-on. Praveen Kumar gave just four off the penultimate over and Harmeet delivered one final twist by bowling Ryan ten Doeschate with a well-disguised slower ball off the third ball of the 20th, and a scrambled two and a single left Kolkata needing four off the last ball. It wasn’t to be, as Harmeet again slowed his pace and bowled a legbreak that resulted in just two.
In the final result, the 30 runs that Punjab scored off their last two overs proved massive. For until then, Narine and Shakib had spun a web around the batsmen; in seven overs between them they had taken five wickets for 34 runs, with Narine going into the 20th over on a hat-trick. Chawla and Harmeet threw their bats around to take 19 off the penultimate over bowled by Kallis, and the final over brought 11, with Bhatt swinging the last ball for six, even though Narine picked up his fifth.
For 18 overs prior to this, Punjab had been the team on the backfoot. Their was just one significant stand – 52 in 7.4 overs between Mandeep Singh and David Hussey – and it was telling that inside the Powerplay Punjab managed as many boundaries as they lost wickets – two. Narine wasted little time in striking on a surface that gripped, Adam Gilchrist top-edging an ugly heave, and then produced a wicked turning delivery to clean up Shaun Marsh in his second over. With Kallis conceding 11 off three overs, Punjab limped to 26 for 2 after six overs.
Mandeep and Hussey tried to get their side back on the rails. Mandeep pulled Jaydev Unadkat’s first delivery over the ropes to begin the eight over with a bang, and Hussey collected an eye-catching four off Shakib in the next. The singles and more importantly doubles – the pair hustled eight twos -were being picked off, and Mandeep was looking good, especially on the offside.
However, the two fell within 12 balls of each other. Punjab went into the second strategy break at the end of 16 overs with six wickets in hand, and looked down in the dumps after Rajat Bhatia struck twice in three balls in his last over to finish with a parsimonious 2 for 14, and Narine rounded off the 18th over with the wickets of Bipul Sharma and Praveen Kumar. The 30 that Chawla, Harmeet and Bhatt proceeded to inject proved decisive.