Cool Boucher wins Bangalore a thriller
In a contest of two desperate teams, Royal Challengers Bangalore were simply more desperate, winning their second game of the season in six tries. Their desperation manifested itself positively, when they included three spinners in the side, opened the bowling with Kevin Pietersen and restricted Kolkata to a below-par total. And it showed up negatively, as they collapsed after a solid start - the first time both their openers got off the mark this season - and contrived to need 10 off the last over, having been 69 for 0 at one point.
Finally, Mark Boucher's cool head prevailed, and his 13-ball 25 saved them much embarrassment, especially when they have been the laughing stocks of the tournament.
Both teams needed inspiration from their captains, and clearly there was only one winner. Even before the toss, Pietersen showed he had read the pitch better by including the extra spinner, in Roelof van der Merwe. Kolkata, who like Bangalore are the butt of jokes, mainly because of their strategy and team decisions, dropped Ajantha Mendis for Murali Kartik. They would surely have regretted that decision when Kartik, Brad Hodge and Chris Gayle prolonged the game with tight bowling.
Pietersen, playing his last game before flying back to England, was the most desperate of all. Despite the presence of three spinners in his side, he bowled the first ball of the day, and got his counterpart Brendon McCullum out with that. Ironic, given that till now a scoreline of 0 for 1 has been an almost exclusive preserve of Pietersen's side. Two of his other spinners, Anil Kumble and KP Appanna, also struck in their first overs, both at crucial times when Kolkata seemed to have got away.
Hodge had come out blazing, taking Pankaj Singh for two fours and a six in three deliveries, and guiding Kolkata to a good start notwithstanding the first over. Till Kumble struck in the sixth over. He first beat Gayle with a bouncing delivery, then got Hodge with a slider to have Kolkata stumbling at 45 for 2.
Gayle scored at an uncharacteristic strike-rate of 108, batting with a runner, and giving up adventure for responsibility. His dismissal, too, was unusual for him - holing out to a boundary fielder off Appanna. It wasn't clear whether the restricted foot movement was the reason but it was certain that Kolkata at that point looked - despite the loss of regular wickets - primed for a second-half assault, at 70 for 3 in 11.1 overs.
That assault never came, though, and, despite Morne van Vyk's 35-ball 44, Kolkata couldn't even double that score. Kumble played a major role, dismissing the dangerous-looking Wriddhiman Saha in his first over back. The spinners bowled 15 overs for 100 runs, and took five wickets. Kumble bowled four of them for 16 runs and two wickets.
Shreevats Goswami, replacing the hopeless Robin Uthappa at the top, and Jacques Kallis got Bangalore off to a start. Goswami was especially impressive. While Kallis was slow in scoring runs, Goswami kept Bangalore ahead of the required run-rate, targeting Ajit Agarkar, the weak link in the Kolkata attack. He hit three boundaries in Agarkar's two overs and didn't allow Kartik to settle into any rhythm, stepping out and hitting two boundaries in his first over.
Kartik made a good comeback and, not for the first time this tournament, Bangalore lost their way post the strategy time-out. They were 65 for 0 at the break, but soon wickets started falling as they looked to capitalise on a good start. Hodge benefited from some reckless shots, and 69 for 0 became 77 for 2. With Ishant Sharma coming out to bowl an impressive late spell, 106 for 2 became 107 for 4 in the 16th over.
Boucher, accustomed to finishing games for South Africa, had the right mix of sensible running and big hitting. He kept his cool through a poor 19th over, when Ishant gave away just three runs and claimed van der Merwe's wicket. His boundary hits came at the right times. He hit a six with 29 required off 16, and then a four with nine required off five. In a match where it seemed, at times, neither team had the will to win, Boucher was the final difference.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo