Kolkata: It's still an uphill task to stay alive, but Kolkata Knight Riders are not out of IPL 6 yet. Needing to win to prevent elimination from the tournament, KKR bowled and fielded with purpose - barring one silly drop by wicketkeeper Manvinder Bisla - to restrict Rajasthan to 132 on a sluggish Eden Gardens pitch. A few early wickets were then smoothed over by a spirited partnership of 78 between Yusuf Pathan (49*) and Jacques Kallis (33*) to give KKR their fourth win in 11 games.
The decision to drop two quicks for two spinners made a big difference for KKR and gave Rajasthan early headaches after Rahul Dravid opted to bat. Sachitra Senanayake, recalled in place of pacer Brett Lee, produced a lovely slower ball that foxed Ajinkya Rahane and left-arm spinner Iqbal Abdulla, playing his first match in place of L Balaji, had James Faulkner caught at point. The two slow bowlers conceded 17 of the 34 runs Rajasthan took off the Powerplay overs.
The two wickets and some tidy bowling forced Shane Watson to size up the situation, but he still operated at a healthy strike-rate. Sanju Samson got going with a firm punch off Kallis past extra cover to give Rajasthan a boundary in 21 deliveries, then lofted Abdulla over deep midwicket for a big six. Watson paddled four to make it 15 off the over, taking Rajasthan to 62 for 2 at the first strategic break.
A spirited bowling performance kept Rajasthan Royals to 132, a target Kolkata's batsmen chased down at Eden Gardens to avoid elimination.
Sunil Narine made an appearance in the 11th over and immediately asked questions of Watson, who got a leading edge first ball and missed a sweep off the next. The third was defended, the fourth struck the pads and then on the fifth Narine had his man, Watson being trapped dead in front on the sweep. After that excellent opening over, Narine was taken out of the attack and kept for the death.
Rajasthan found the boundary just four times in the next eight overs, with KKR's bowlers keeping things tidy. Dishant Yagnik (10) inside-edged Senanayake onto his stumps and a dolly drop by Bisla off Narine cost only three runs as Samson (40) lofted Rajat Bhatia to long-on. Kallis bowled a tidy 20th over, conceding nine runs and picking off Owais Shah for 24.
Bisla made a busy start to their chase, striking Ankeet Chavan for six over long-on and miscuing consecutive boundaries off Watson. It was Watson who provided the breakthrough, having Gautam Gambhir (12) excellently stumped by an alert Yagnik in the sixth over. Not too long after, Bisla (29) got a leading edge off Chavan which Rahane gobbled up at short cover.
Kolkata were stabilized by a solid stand between Kallis and Yusuf Pathan, who mixed deft placement with a few firm shots over the top to keep the asking rate in control. In between picking singles, Kallis drilled Brad Hogg for a flat six over extra cover, Yusuf drove Stuarty Binny over long-on and slogs-swept Hogg for maximum. Rajasthan were on the defensive, allowing both batsmen to slip down a gear and get KKR over the line with 16 balls remaining.