Bopara half-century leads Punjab to clinical victory
Ravi Bopara compiled a supremely-paced innings, one that could rival AB de Villiers' century because it came during a run-chase, to give Kings XI Punjab their first victory of the tournament. He scored steadily without taking too many risks and just when the chase entered its final phase Bopara accelerated with tremendous speed to consign Bangalore Royal Challengers to their third consecutive defeat.
The groundwork for the win was laid by Punjab's bowlers who made their first sunny match-day count. Yusuf Abdulla, who had bowled three overs for 39 before this match, struck at crucial moments in Bangalore's innings. Abdulla's four strikes, and Irfan Pathan's three in the final overs, were vital in restricting Bangalore to 168, a target which allowed Punjab's batsmen to play according to a plan.
Chasing under lights at Kingsmead can be tricky and Punjab approached their chase cautiously. Their openers, Karan Goel and Bopara, played few big shots, focusing instead on scoring at nearly eight an over by pushing the ball into gaps. They scored only 44 off the first six overs and Bopara's pull off Jacques Kallis, which sailed over the square leg boundary at the start of the seventh over, was the first six of the innings.
Goel fell soon after, run out after a stand of 52, and the batsmen that followed - Kumar Sangakkara and Yuvraj Singh - also paced, rather than pushed, their innings. Punjab ensured that the asking-rate didn't spiral out of control, but with 60 runs needed off the last five overs, they couldn't afford any slip-ups.
Bopara ensured there weren't any. He launched into Praveen Kumar in the 16th over, smashing him for sixes over long-on and deep backward square leg and took 19 runs off the over. Yuvraj pulled and glanced two fours off Kallis in the next over to reduce the equation to 28 off three. And when Bopara pulled a full toss and powered another full ball over the leg-side boundary, the game was nearly won. Yuvraj reached the target with a straight six with a whole over to spare, completing a clinical chase.
The calmness that Punjab exhibited during the chase was absent during Bangalore's innings. Bangalore's openers once again failed to put a partnership together with Robin Uthappa chasing and edging Pathan's wide delivery in the second over. It was the fourth time in as many matches that Bangalore were losing an opener for a duck (Jesse Ryder twice, Praveen and Uthappa once). Ryder, however, finally got off the mark this season, punching his third ball off Ranadeb Bose to the cover boundary.
Kallis started in high gear, pulling a short ball from Pathan over the long-leg boundary and lofting Abdulla's first ball over cover point for four. Ryder also hit Pathan to the point boundary and Bangalore seemed to have shrugged off their Powerplay troubles: their average in the first six overs was 36 runs for the loss of 2.33 wickets and today they were 48 for 1 off 5.1 overs.
Abdulla, however, wrecked their momentum, bowling Ryder as he attempted to play a pull. Two balls later, he struck a tremendous blow, drawing Kevin Pietersen into spooning a catch to cover off a slower ball. Rahul Dravid once again entered with his team in trouble - 48 for 3 - but this time he failed to contribute. Tied down by the spinners - Bangalore scored only 22 between overs six and ten - Dravid attempted to smash Piyush Chawla down the ground and skied a catch towards long-on.
Kallis and Taylor had added 61 in quick time before Abdulla returned to induce a mis-timed pull from Kallis with a slower short ball. Taylor continued to attack, slog-sweeping Chawla into the stands at deep midwicket, but he eventually became Abdulla's fourth wicket. Pathan picked up quick wickets towards the close and Bangalore finished several runs short of what they would have aimed for.
George Binoy is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo