van der Merwe leads Somerset to tight win
Jacques Kallis showed technical prowess, Yusuf Pathan great power, but the pugnacious Roelof van der Merwe mastered the slow and low track the best to help Somerset chase a daunting 162. Kolkata Knight Riders' late surge with both bat and ball made them work hard for the win, Kolkata looted 78 off the last six overs, and quick wickets meant Somerset had to struggle for 43 off their last seven.
Even when Kallis and Yusuf went berserk, van der Merwe was the only man to hold his own. He went for just 14 from the 18th and 20 overs despite two dropped catches, one of which went for four. With the bat in hand he was an absolute jack in the box, reverse-sweeping sixes, managing to mishit over the infield, drop-kicking his favourite cricketer Kallis over midwicket, late-cutting the spinners delicately, and scoring the third-fastest Champions league fifty.
It would have been easy for Somerset to feel disheartened after part-timer Arul Suppiah conceded 30 off the 15th over, or feel hard done by Brett Lee's getting away with clear overhead bouncers and Alfonso Thomas' being penalised for a border-line slower bouncer with Kallis down on his knees. Especially when Thomas followed that harsh call with a high full toss that Kallis duly deposited for a six.
Somerset, though, got stuck in. And like with the ball van, der Merwe was the man with the bat. He came in to bat when Iqbal Abdulla struck with the first ball off the second over, but dominated so much that Peter Trego managed only 23 out of a 105-run second-wicket stand. He began with an edge through the vacant first slip region, but proceeded to counter Abdulla and Shakib Al Hasan with lovely late-cutting. It frustrated Kolkata so much that Manoj Tiwary - wired up for live-time interviews - berated his spinners on air for not turning the ball at all. The reverse-swept six off Shakib worked a treat.
Kallis, who had worked hard in the first innings for his 74, was picked up for a six over midwicket and then upper-cut over the keeper's head. That it was his devotee hitting him out of the attack made it more interesting to watch. At that time Somerset had reached 107 in 10 overs, and all they needed was milking. Kolkata, though, weren't quite bovine, and Shakib brought them back. He dropped a caught-and-bowled from Trego but produced a direct-hit to run him out. The one from van der Merwe in the same over he gleefully accepted.
With two new batsmen in, the pitch was back to being a mud-wrestling arena. The ball held up from the middle of the pitch, and stroke-making was difficult again. Nick Compton, Arul Suppiah and Steve Snell kept their cool for long enough to see them through with two balls to spare.
It was similar sensible batting from Kallis that had kept Kolkata alive in the first quarter of the game. With Somerset bowlers using the slow track well and the fielders giving hardly anything away, Kallis had to use all his technique and judgement. It took him 39 deliveries to reach a strike-rate of 100. That was in the 14th over, when he hit his first six to take Kolkata to 82, off the 82nd legal delivery. In the next over, Thomas, the exemplary Somerset captain, gambled. He asked part-time spinner Suppiah to bowl. He was the seventh bowler used, and the run-rate of six an over then didn't suggest Somerset needed overs to be made up. Perhaps Thomas was greedy with the slow track now.
Yusuf seized the moment. He stood still, waited for the full flat deliveries and kept swinging to leg, hitting four consecutive sixes. Eighty-three had become 113 in one over, and clearly the fielding side, who had played smart cricket until then, was rattled. Catches were dropped, overthrows conceded, Kallis joined in in the fun too, but van der Merwe was still in their face. He would continue to be there with the bat too.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo