All-round Irfan stars for Punjab
Two pairs of left-handers played key roles as Kings XI Punjab steamrolled Rajasthan Royals in Cape Town. Punjab struggled after early losses and it was left to Kumar Sangakkara to weigh in with his first half-century of the tournament and the star of the day, Irfan Pathan, to provide the momentum for a fightback. Then, defending a total of 139, Punjab were indebted to double-wicket overs from Irfan and Yusuf Abdulla at the start.
Both left-arm seamers did a sterling job under the Newlands lights, mixing their line and length impressively to check a shaky batting line-up. Rajasthan, who had set themselves a realistic chance of victory in the field fell 27 runs short.
Rajasthan's chase of 140 wasn't a tall order, but their fate was sealed by a rampant left-arm seam attack who snaffled four wickets in the first five overs. Having contributed with the bat, Irfan grabbed two wickets in his opening over. He drew a top edge from Swapnil Asnodkar with a short ball and produced a thin edge off Graeme Smith's bat with a fuller, away-swinging delivery. Rajasthan were 9 for 2.
Yuvraj Singh had opened the bowling with Ramesh Powar but Irfan's success encouraged him to go for an all-pace attack. Abdulla's first over was tidy, costing just six, and his second was disastrous for Rajasthan. Rob Quiney got a faint tickle on one down the leg side and a leaden-footed Dimitri Mascarenhas heard the death rattle second ball when he played around an offcutter.
That left Rajasthan 27 for 4, anxiously needing a partnership and Yusuf Pathan - Man of the Match in their last game - to fire. Yusuf began by picking his brother for a couple fours only to perish sweeping in Piyush Chawa's first over. Another bowling change had worked and Punjab were all over Rajasthan.
Chawla tossed it up and was rewarded with another wicket. The asking-rate kept increasing and it proved too much for Ravindra Jadeja (37) and Shane Warne, who scampered smart singles but couldn't find the boundaries during their 60-run association. Abdulla came back with Rajasthan needing 38 from two overs and cleaned up Jadeja first ball. Irfan gave just six in the last over to cap a great game. That Rajasthan didn't manage one six told a story.
Irfan's two early wickets were crucial defending a small total but that could have been smaller without his contribution with the bat when Punjab were four down for not much. Karan Goel was run out first ball - the second time in the day a wicket had fallen in that manner - before Kamran Khan and Munaf Patel struck. Warne's decision to use each of his pace bowlers in one-over bursts worked wonderfully. There were no consecutive overs for any bowler from the Wynberg end and each time Kamran and Munaf came back they struck first ball.
Kamran removed Ravi Bopara courtesy an athletic dive from Munaf at mid-on and Munaf rcame back to dismiss Yuvraj with one that swung way. Punjab slipped to 48 for 4 when Mahela Jayawardene scooped Munaf to a sliding Kamran at mid-off.
It was Irfan who provided much-needed ammunition. He wasn't always assured against spin, but backing himself to swing freely through the on side he helped Punjab rebuild. Warne and Yusuf were hit for a six each by Irfan, the quicker deliveries were smartly worked square on the off side, and a handy partnership of 75 in 59 balls had begun. Irfan kept up the momentum with some sweetly-timed strokes on the off side, the best of the lot being a cut off Warne when he came back on.
Sangakkara's 60 held the innings together. So often a calm, controlled batsman, he combined his usual elegance with a range of aggressive shots; cutting deftly, pulling powerfully and even launching Warne into a raucous crowd. Mascarenhas found just a hint of swing but too often served up four-balls; Sangakkara took him for three cracking boundaries. A powerful partnership had set up a final flourish but Rajasthan dismissed Irfan and Sangakkara in the 19th over to set themselves a gettable target.
But in the end there was no denying Punjab, piloted to victory by the all-round heroics of Irfan, their brightest star.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo