Taylor blasts Bangalore to victory
Royal Challengers Bangalore 176 for 4 (Taylor 81*, Kartik 2-28) beat Kolkata Knight Riders 173 for 4 (McCullum 84*, Hussey 43, Vinay Kumar 2-33) by six wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
How they were out
Royal Challengers Bangalore, buoyed by Ross Taylor's return to form, overcame a formidable target set by Kolkata Knight Riders to boost their chances of making the top four, winning by six wickets in a tense encounter in Centurion. Brendon McCullum's determined innings was in vain, as Taylor marked a timely comeback, feasting on some shoddy bowling by the seamers at the death, to inflict yet another disappointment on Kolkata, who squandered the edge they had held for most of the game.
Taylor and Jesse Ryder were Bangalore's key batsmen ahead of the season, and their failure, along with Kevin Pietersen's poor performance, had proved embarrassing. Taylor, though, redeemed himself, remaining unfazed by the loss of three quick wickets to time Bangalore's chase to perfection, carting five sixes and seven fours in a brutal assault that overshadowed Kolkata's admirable batting display.
Bangalore were on course in pursuit of 174, led by a solid opening stand of 58 between Jacques Kallis and Ryder. Neither of the two was excessively dominating, but combined their ability to punish bad balls with intermittent displays of improvisation when the situation demanded it. Kallis survived an early chance, when Ajantha Mendis ran too far in from third man, failing to snap an upper-cut, but two half-volleys from Ajit Agarkar were lofted for a six and four the very next over. Ryder looked fluent, in contrast to his terrible form in the early phase of the tournament, pulling Ishant Sharma before dispatching two full tosses over mid-off.
The difference in strategy adopted by both teams was evident before the tactical time-out in each innings, with Kolkata sticking to the tested method of shuffling the attack, using as many as six bowlers in the first eight overs - Bangalore had used three. The spin of Ajantha Mendis and David Hussey was countered well, but a stupendous piece of fielding from McCullum, who flung himself to his left to snap Kallis put an end to the threatening stand. When Ryder sliced Agarkar straight to third man in the next over, and Robin Uthappa slogged one to deep midwicket right after the time-out, Bangalore had lost three in three overs to concede the advantage.
Barring McCullum's acrobatic effort, Kolkata were, yet again, poor in the field, missing attempts to run out both Taylor and Rahul Dravid, giving one a chance to regain some much-needed form, and the other to play the supporting role with flair. The game began to slip from Kolkata's grasp when Taylor spoilt Murali Kartik's figures with two sixes in his final over. The talking point for Kolkata has been the puzzling absence of Mashrafe Mortaza and the experienced Charl Langeveldt. The travails of Angelo Matthews - who was struck for three fours in an over by Taylor - provided more fodder for criticism.
With 55 needed off 30, and seven wickets in hand, Bangalore held the cards but Dravid's scoop back to Mendis in a miserly 16th over added another twist to the see-saw game. Taylor, though, was unflustered, smacking two fours off Ajit Agarkar to reach his half-century, and combined with Mark Boucher, who pulled a no-ball for six, to take 19 off Ishant's final over.
Agarkar's reliability at the death has been questionable throughout his career and he failed his team, gifting two full-tosses to Taylor in the penultimate over, one smashed over midwicket and the other over long-on. The Bangalore batsmen were fed with full-length balls, which they promptly dealt with, proving decisive in the outcome. Mathews provided the fitting end, delivering another full toss, symbolically dismissed by Taylor for six over square leg to end the game and keep his team in the running for a semi-final berth.
Taylor's blitz spoilt an excellent innings from Kolkata's struggling captain, who fought through a patchy phase to take a backseat to the aggressive Hussey, and then changed gears following the Australian's dismissal to hand his team its most satisfying batting performance of the season. The burden of captaincy had proved too hard to bear for McCullum, and had affected his own performance adversely. He remained guarded for much of his innings, after he lost Sourav Ganguly and Arindam Ghosh early on, providing a glimpse of his more conventional side to batting, compared to the raw aggression that has typified his style. The boundaries kept coming, mostly of Hussey's bat, but the feature of the partnership, apart from the two contrasting approaches by each batsman, was the wave of singles and twos that avoided any dip in scoring despite the two early setbacks.
The roles changed once Mathews, the Sri Lankan allrounder, walked in. McCullum switched to his natural mode of play, stepping out to dispatch Kumble, and smashing Akhil for two sixes, bringing up his first fifty in ten innings. The cherry was a burst of three successive fours - two paddle-scoops and one contemptuous pull - off R Vinay Kumar which took his team to a competitive score.
Kolkata, despite being knocked out, still have a significant role to play as their remaining games could well determine who finishes in the final four. However, their tendency to lose, even from winning positions, reinforced their unfortunate status as the tournament's punching bag.
Siddhartha Talya is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo