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Bangalore's far-from-royal challenge is now surely over, while the slender victory gives Kolkata the chance to dream again
May 8, 2008
Even at half past one, they were walking down the Esplanade in their hundreds, discussing ways to get home. Some were still laughing and cheering, while others clutched their black-and-gold flags and moved ahead like zombies. Some carried sleeping infants, while others were exhaling smoky fumes of relief into the cloudy Kolkata sky.
If that saying about fans getting the team that they deserve was really true, the Knight Riders would win the trophy every year. Not even a fervent Mumbai crowd on a good day can match the Eden Gardens for atmosphere. It is to cricket what Anfield is to European football nights, and even the most committed Bangalore supporter would have been awed by the volume that the crowd summoned up despite a couple of stands being largely empty.
Make no mistake, this was a battle for IPL survival. Bangalore's far-from-royal challenge is now surely over, while the slender victory gives Kolkata the chance to dream again. With four home matches to come, and 80,000 Electric Light Orchestra members in the background to cheer every ball, who's to say what might happen?
Sourav Ganguly, the man of the match after a bowling display reminiscent of his Toronto heroics from a decade ago, had no doubt that the crowd had played a massive part in the five-run victory. "You could see the intensity in the field," he said with a smile. He had played his part there too, with a stunning reflex stop after Mark Boucher had driven the ball straight back at him.
In the end, it all came down to one stroke, or the lack of it, and Bangalore will once again look back at a game where they were clearly second-best in the field. The Knight Riders threw themselves around, and according to Ganguly's reckoning, they saved "at least 15 to 20 runs". The highlight was of course Brad Hodge's magnificent stop-pick-up-and-throw to run-out J Arunkumar, though Murali Kartik's ice-cool dismissal of Cameron White also rates a mention.
Given what was at stake in this game, it was almost inevitable that the main post-match question would be about that ball. Ganguly grinned like a Cheshire cat before composing himself. "Look, these are small things in a game," he said, when asked about the delivery that sent Rahul Dravid's leg stump for a stroll. "It was an important game for him as well."
There was no doubt though which captain had come out on top. Ganguly's spell was the much-needed tourniquet after Arunkumar had briefly made Kolkata bleed, and it coincided with Dravid's 11-ball five, the last thing Bangalore needed in a high-pressure chase. And while Boucher may have finished with an unbeaten 50 from 40 balls, he managed only four from the 11 deliveries that Ganguly bowled to him.
With Ganguly sending the crowd into raptures and Ishant Sharma holding his nerve in the final two overs of his spell, it was forgotten just how well a new face had set the tone for this team of international stars. "He's a young prospect who's always had something about him," Ganguly said, when asked about Ashok Dinda, who nearly matched Dale Steyn when it came to consistently clocking around 140kph. "I picked him up from nowhere for a Duleep Trophy game [in 2005]. I think he'd played only one Ranji match at the time. He has pace and he can swing the ball."
Dinda certainly doesn't have the conventional fast bowler's build, but a dramatic leap as he nears the crease and a whippy arm action help him generate plenty of pace. He's also fairly accurate, and an economy rate of 6.00 after seven games is something that some of the established international stars must be dreaming of.
For young men like Dinda and Wriddhiman Saha, who once again played a massive part with the bat, the IPL is about far more than the money. If Shoaib Akhtar is fit, Dinda may not even play the next game. But if Ganguly does trust his instincts and throw the ball his way, you can be sure he won't let the side down. The 80,000 faithful make him ten feet tall and give his deliveries wings of speed. More than anything else, that has been the greatest success of this tournament.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Plays of the day from the fifth ODI in Ranchi
Plays of the day from the fourth ODI between India and Sri Lanka in Kolkata