Chennai clinch rain-reduced game
For the second successive day, the weather played spoilsport and forced Duckworth-Lewis to decide what was shaping into a fascinating contest. This time, Chennai Super Kings were on the right end of the result, as their total of 55 without loss after eight overs, chasing 150, was three runs ahead of the par score when a severe dust storm descended upon the Eden Gardens, and the rains that followed ensured there was no chance for the match to resume. The two points to Chennai moves them up to 14, while Kolkata Knight Riders are stuck on ten points from 11 games.
The weather marred the contest, but through 28 overs the crowd witnessed a couple of fine performances. At the same ground where he had announced his arrival in international cricket, Salman Butt played another gem, scoring a classy 73 off 54 balls, to lift an otherwise subdued performance from Kolkata. Chennai had their own man for the moment, as Makhaya Ntini took the third hat-trick of the IPL, dismissing Sourav Ganguly in his third over, and then returning 11 overs later to bowl Debabrata Das - who had been involved in an 86-run stand with Butt - and David Hussey off successive balls.
That stand gave Kolkata's bowlers something to defend, but the most crucial moment of the match came three deliveries before the interruption. Their defence of the total had got off to a poor start as Shoaib Akhtar struggled with what seemed an injured ankle. Stephen Fleming, at last showing the form and fluency of old, and Parthiv Patel had eased to a half-century stand when Parthiv top-edged a pull, but Ashok Dinda put down the skier, and in the process allowed a single. Had that chance been taken, Chennai would have ended level with the par score, and with no further play possible, Kolkata would have gone away with one point.
The only positive for Kolkata was that their batting put together a reasonable performance after their abysmal display against Mumbai Indians, when they had been bundled out for 67. Butt's knock wasn't the fastest by Twenty20 standards, but considering the context - a pitch lacking in pace, and a batting line-up lacking in confidence - it was just what Kolkata would have wanted.
Their start was poor yet again, as Ntini struck twice in his first three overs - Mohammad Hafeez flicked to fine leg and Sourav Ganguly attempted an ungainly heave and found his middle stump knocked back.
At 28 for 2 after five overs, Chennai had taken the early honours, before Butt found a partner who was ready to play the support act. Das, drafted into the side in place of Aakash Chopra, creamed a couple of audacious straight sixes off Muttiah Muralitharan - who had a day to forget - but for the most part he was content to play second fiddle to the classy Butt, who played an outstanding knock.
As is his wont, Butt was all silken grace through the off side, either making room to cream drives through the covers, or getting behind the line to pepper the point and cover boundaries off the back foot. Manpreet Gony was crisply hit through the covers in his first over, while Ntini, who otherwise gave little away, leaked successive fours off two exceptional shots, as Butt moved away and lofted one through the covers, and then square-drove the next ball through point. Muralitharan was not spared either, as Butt slog-swept a six over midwicket, and then carved three successive fours through midwicket and third man in his last over, as Muralitharan finished with unflattering figures of none for 41.
Apart from that partnership, there wasn't much cheer for Kolkata. Ntini, bowling a full length and attacking the stumps, bowled both Das and Hussey to complete his hat-trick and ended with excellent figures of 4 for 21. Gony's control was exceptional as well, landing the ball on a length and allowing the batsmen no room. The fielding wasn't as impressive - S Vidyut was guilty of sloppy misfielding and a missed catch off Butt, while Gony dropped one late in the innings - as Kolkata managed to reach a competitive target. With Shoaib in the attack, there was plenty of hope for the home crowd, but his limp performance, followed by the rain, means Kolkata have plenty of catching up to do to win a semi-final berth.
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo