Marsh and Sangakkara seal close win
Despite having little to play for in this dead rubber, Kings XI Punjab gave an imposing performance against the Deccan Chargers and left the other teams plenty to think about ahead of the semi-finals.
The match went down to the last over but Punjab's openers had done enough to keep their side on top through the innings. Shaun Marsh and Kumar Sangakkara injected a dash of nitro fuel to the run chase, adding 50 in 3.5 overs; that only one of the first six overs went for less than 10 runs indicated how brutal their assault was. Marsh picked up from where he had left off against Mumbai while Sangakkara gave no sign he was returning after a five-match injury layoff.
The first four balls of the innings - going for three runs - were clearly a calm before the storm. Marsh whacked the fifth for four through mid-off and hooked the final one for a massive six over backward square leg.
Adam Gilchrist, the Deccan captain, replaced RP Singh with Venugopal Rao in the third over, like he successfully did against Mumbai. This time the change was disastrous because, instead of getting a wicket, Venugopal was hit for a four to long-off and a six over midwicket. P Vijaykumar was taken for 15 runs in his second over, which included an exquisite shot by Marsh - with his left elbow high and perpendicular to the pitch, he lifted a fuller ball on off stump to long-on for six. Sangakkara also punished Scott Styris with a six and a four but in Styris's next over Punjab's run-graph began to curve downwards. He conceded only four runs and the wickets began to fall soon after.
The introduction of spinners Rohit Sharma and Pragyan Ojha gave Deccan some hope of replicating the Bangalore Royal Challengers' shock win over the Chennai Super Kings earlier in the week. Sangakkara swept Rohit's first ball for four to fine leg to reach his fifty off 23 balls - for the second time in the tournament - but when he tried to loft him down the ground, Sangakkara failed to middle the shot and fell to Chamara Silva at long-on.
Marsh and Yuvraj Singh were circumspect against the spinners and Yuvraj fell, trying to break loose, when he tried to slog Ojha and RP took a difficult catch at midwicket. Marsh fell three overs later and was soon followed by Luke Pomersbach, who top-edged to Rohit at extra cover. But Mahela Jayawardene and Piyush Chawla wrapped up the game with no more hiccups.
Deccan had put on a credible batting display and if they had been able to contain Marsh and Sangakkara, the match could have gone down the wire.
Deccan's openers took advantage of Punjab's innocuous opening bowlers and added 79 in 11.1 overs. Gilchrist and Herschelle Gibbs punished the bad balls early in the innings. When VRV Singh bowled full and wide, Gilchrist drove him for fours through extra cover and mid-off. Gibbs, who was uncomfortable against Sreesanth's swinging deliveries, attacked successive balls drifting onto his pads, flicking through midwicket and nudging past fine leg. He rounded off the third over, which went for 12 runs, with a perfectly timed drive through extra cover.
The two were cautious for a brief period when the spinners came on, scoring only six runs off 12 balls, but a restless Gibbs then decided to turn on the aggression by stepping out and slogging Ramesh Powar for six over midwicket and lofting Chawla for two sixes over long-on. Gilchrist, who was troubled by Chawla's googlies, attacked Yuvraj, going inside-out over mid-on for a six. Both were bowled going for big across-the-line hits - Gibbs trying to slog Gagandeep Singh and Gilchrist sweeping Powar.
Deccan were aided by some shoddy work by the Punjab fielders. Powar fumbled his dive and allowed a Gilchrist shot to go over the line, while Sreesanth gave away runs with mis-fields at third man and fine leg. Then there was VRV who only half-heartedly tried to go for a catch at long-off off Rohit. That dropped catch proved costly for Punjab as Rohit hit 32 off two overs soon after the reprieve.
Punjab's only motivation, going into this match, was to play for ranking in the final four and this win will ensure they are that much closer to it.
Nishi Narayanan is a staff writer at Cricinfo