Spinners, Gambhir help Kolkata breeze past Pune
Kolkata Knight Riders 119 for 3 (Gambhir 54*) beat Pune Warriors 118 for 7 (Yuvraj 24, Balaji 2-7, Shakib 2-16) by seven wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
It was billed as Sourav Ganguly's payback game against Kolkata Knight Riders. Instead, it proved to be a stern examination on a turner for the Pune Warriors batsmen, and called in to question the home side's decision to play only one specialist spinner as Shakib Al Hasan, Iqbal Abdulla and Yusuf Pathan exploited the generous spin available to tie Pune down. Kolkata, anchored by Gautam Gambhir, and under no pressure with an asking rate of below six, motored to victory, taking a big step towards making the play-offs.
Unless they lose badly to Mumbai Indians in their last league game, and Kings XI Punjab manage another big win in their last match, Kolkata should be through to the knock-outs.
The comfortable victory was set up by the Kolkata spin trio, who picked up five wickets for 51 runs in 11 overs, but more than that, preyed on the minds of the Pune batsmen, who struggled to score on a pitch that would have been a good test of batsmen's skills in a Test match against quality spin, but looked out of place in a Twenty20 game.
Right from the first ball that Abdulla bowled, it was clear that the batsmen were in for a hard grind. It was flighted, drew Manish Pandey forward, and spun sharply across as he missed the ball by a long way. The third was the typical left-arm spinner's sucker ball, making Pandey push forward outside the line for the turn and going straight on to strike him in front. This was after Jesse Ryder had targeted the second ball of spin in the game, trying to smash Yusuf Pathan for six but only finding mid-off. It was the beginning of Pune's problems.
Callum Ferguson came in ahead of Ganguly, and the relative ease with which he played during his short innings made one wonder again what he had been doing in the Pune dugout for most of the season. It was the spinners' night though, and Ferguson was left clueless as he skipped out to Shakib, only for the ball to turn a long way past his bat for Shreevats Goswami to do the rest.
There was a time when left-arm spin from both ends would never be tried against Ganguly, but that time is long gone. Ganguly led a charmed life today, almost edging the ball on to the stumps and also escaping a stumping chance. He showed one glimpse of the batsman he once was, lofting Abdulla for a very straight six, but clearly, sustained big hitting on a difficult pitch was too much to expect. He departed on another failed attempt to break free, sweeping Shakib to Yusuf at backward square leg.
It was not until the 13th over that Pune's most explosive batsmen, Robin Uthappa and Yuvraj Singh, got together. A run-rate that had remained stuck below six after the opening over forced Uthappa to go hard at Yusuf in the next over, but he swung it to deep midwicket where Lee took a sharp catch. Yuvraj was left playing the tragic hero yet again, but even he could not do much, ultimately top-edging a pull off L Balaji, who came on to bowl for the first time in the last over.
Alfonso Thomas got Pune the breakthrough in the first over, getting Goswami caught behind with one that took off. That was as close as Pune came to entertaining hopes of an upset, and Kolkata's line-up proved to be too powerful, not even requiring the services of Jacques Kallis, who had injured his finger in the field.
Gambhir, as always, showed how to tackle a turning pitch, repeatedly using his feet against Pune's spinners, Rahul Sharma and Yuvraj. He also played two delightful extra cover drives off successive deliveries against Thomas. Yusuf wasn't far behind, making room to cut Rahul's skiddy deliveries from off stump through short third man.
That it wasn't to be Pune's day was evident when consecutive throws from Ferguson ran to the boundary, the latter after hitting the stumps. Not that it mattered in the end, as Kolkata were simply the superior side by a long margin.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo