Balaji stars in crushing win
Kolkata Knight Riders 85 for 2 (Gambhir 35*, Tiwary 30*) beat Rajasthan Royals 81 (Balaji 3-15) by eight wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
"Balaji, zara dheere chalo!" (Balaji, walk a little slowly) was the cry in 2004 when L Balaji charmed the Pakistan public with his skill and smile. Seven years later, post a career-threatening back problem, both the traits were visible tonight and Eden Gardens lapped it up in delight as a Balaji-inspired Kolkata Knight Riders routed Rajasthan Royals on a slow pitch.
Balaji produced a magical delivery to knock out the dangerous Shane Watson in his first spell before he returned to torpedo the lower order. The delivery that took out Watson was one of the best, if not the best, delivery bowled by a seamer this IPL. It landed on the good length around the middle stump line and jagged away sharply past the waft to hit the top of the off stump. Balaji screamed, his team-mates were delirious, and the crowd roared; everyone knew the importance of Watson's dismissal, accentuated even more by the absence of Rahul Dravid and Johan Botha in the line-up. He later returned to remove Ajinkya Rahane with an incutter and had Ashok Menaria upper cutting to thirdman.
Buoyed by Balaji's feat, a charged-up Kolkata applied the squeeze with discipline in bowling and desperation in the field. Iqbal Abdulla produced two sparkling moments: he first got one to dip and turn to leave Amit Paunikar stranded out of the crease before he produced a stunning effort in the field. He charged across and dived to stop a push-drive at short mid-on region off his own bowling and was shaping to throw at the striker's end when he realised that damage had to be done at the other end. He switched his arm at the very last instant to fire down a direct hit to run out Faiz Fazal.
The wicketkeeper Manvinder Bisla got in the act next to play his part in removing Ross Taylor in the 11th over. Taylor had overbalanced out of his crease, trying to flick a wide delivery down the leg side but Bisla reacted quickly to whip off the bails.
It was then the turn of Shakib Al Hasan to leave his imprint on the game. He reacted quickly at midwicket to fire an accurate throw at the striker's end to run out Abhishek Raut. Later, after Balaji had taken out Rahane and Menaria, Shakib took wickets off successive deliveries in the 15th over to hasten the end. Two arm-balls, with varying pace, took out Amit Singh and Shaun Tait for ducks, before Brett Lee rearranged Siddharth Trivedi's stumps to give Kolkata a perfect finish.
The chase wasn't a stroll, though. Jacques Kallis fell for a second-ball duck, top edging a lifter from Shaun Tait, and Manvinder Bisla fell to Shane Warne after a scratchy knock. Gautam Gambhir, however, stayed till the end to finish the job.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo