Harmeet Singh, Rohit Sharma shore up Deccan
Deccan Chargers survived three huge blows in the first two overs of the match, and some more towards the end by Robin Uthappa, to keep alive their hopes of a semi-final berth. In a match that lurched wildly one way and then another, Harmeet Singh delivered the most decisive blow as Deccan held their nerve and eked out a 13-run win to move up to fifth in the points table.
There were several moments in the match when it seemed Royal Challengers Bangalore had nailed the decisive advantage. First, when Dale Steyn took three wickets in first two overs, including those of Adam Gilchrist and Hershelle Gibbs, to reduce Deccan to 14 for 3; then, when Rahul Dravid creamed a classy and effortless 35-ball 49 to put Bangalore right on track in their run-chase; and again, when Uthappa struck two towering sixes off Ryan Harris in the 17th over to reduce the target to 18 from 12 balls.
That's when Harmeet delivered the blow from which there was no comeback for Bangalore. Bowling his back-of-the-hand slower deliveries, he ended Uthappa's swashbuckling innings, and effectively ruined Bangalore's run-chase. That over went for just one run, and it was clear which team would end up the winner.
Teams have struggled at overhauling even modest totals at this ground, and it was a similar story today, thanks to the conditions which make it a far more even contest between bat and ball than most other venues - the boundaries were much bigger, ensuring shots which would have cleared the ground elsewhere stayed within the arena, and the pitch was slow and assisted spin, causing several batsmen to mis-time lofted shots.
Even accounting for those factors, Bangalore, with their power-packed batting line-up, should have fancied their chances, and their run-chase seemed in good health while Dravid was timing the ball crisply after the first-ball dismissal of Manish Pandey. During his 35-ball knock he showcased a whole gamut of strokes, even as Jacques Kallis struggled for timing in a laborious 37-ball 27.
The first ominous sign came when Pragyan Ojha, who turned in another sterling display, got one to turn, jump, and bounce at Kallis in his first over. The new ball was probably Bangalore's best opportunity for runs, but Kallis' slow knock ensured Deccan still had plenty of runs to defend when the slower bowlers came on. Ojha put in his second superb display against Bangalore - he had taken 2 for 24 four days back - while Harmeet was a revelation with his slower deliveries. Kallis, Dravid and Virat Kohli all fell to lofted shots, while Ross Taylor was done in by a fine yorker from RP Singh, who put forward a much-improved performance.
In the end it was left to Uthappa to rescue the team again, but the combination of the conditions and the bowling attack was too much to conquer even for him.
Deccan's score of 151 owed largely to the 82-run fourth-wicket stand between Rohit Sharma and Monish Mishra, who lifted Deccan after a stunning burst from Steyn had them floundering. There wasn't much pace on the track, but you wouldn't know it watching Steyn bowl his first three overs. He clearly loves bowling at this venue: on his previous visit here a couple of months back, he returned match figures of 10 for 108 and destroyed India's famed batting line-up; this time, he did the same with Deccan's top order.
He didn't touch the 150 kph-mark like he had in the previous two games in his home ground, but the rewards were far more substantial this time. Gilchrist edged his first ball, T Suman had no answers to a perfect short delivery aimed at the body, while Gibbs was beaten by pace and away movement.
Rohit and Monish then began the rescue act. After a slow start, both turned it on during a four-over spell between the ninth and 13th overs, which fetched 48. Mishra struck sixes off three consecutive overs, while Rohit caressed three fours in a single over from Kallis. The stand was already worth 82 and threatening many more when a terrible misunderstanding undid all the good work. Andrew Symonds struck a couple of powerful blows down the ground, while Rohit stroked his second half-century of the tournament, but both fell at inopportune moments. Even then, it turned out they had enough runs on the board to keep their semi-final hopes alive.
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo