Bowlers and Ganguly knock out Rajasthan
Kolkata Knight Riders' bowlers knocked out Rajasthan Royals and kept their semi-final hopes alive by setting up a comprehensive eight-wicket win. They limited Rajasthan to a below-par score on a slowish pitch, and Sourav Ganguly backed them up with another significant contribution to push Kolkata to 12 points.
The effort overcame an intimidating start from Shane Watson, who began with a series of boundaries, and the loss of early wickets in the chase. Kolkata, however, face a tough task in ensuring a qualification for the knockout stage, as they have to beat a formidable Mumbai Indians in their next game and by a big margin to boost their negative net run-rate.
Watson, opening for the first time this IPL, took little time settling in to his preferred position in limited-overs cricket, triggering a confident start with a series of boundaries, feeding off some indisciplined bowling. The Kolkata bowlers often pitched too short or were countered by some superior batting by Watson, who created opportunities to find the boundaries with ease.
But the damage caused in the first seven overs, where Rajasthan had raced to 57 without loss, was compensated for by Kolkata's seamers, who, realising the sluggish nature of the track, cut down on pace and used their variations well. Laxmi Shukla played a prominent role in the first two dismissals, bowling Watson with a slower legcutter and then flinging himself to his left to snap a blinder to send back Naman Ojha off Jaidev Unadkat, who finished with a three-for.
Kolkata's ground-fielding remained poor for much of the innings but their catching won them crucial wickets. Sourav Ganguly's brilliant effort to get rid of Yusuf Pathan was among the best catches in the tournament, running back several yards from midwicket, keeping his eyes on the ball and falling full stretch to hold on. When Ashok Dinda had Adam Voges hole out to long-on in the 14th over, four out of five genuine batsmen had fallen prey to the slower ball.
While the boundaries had dried up, Rajasthan could have still worked the field and rotated the strike to preserve enough wickets for the surge at the death. But their batsmen consumed an inordinate number of dot balls - including a wicket-maiden by Shane Bond where he dismissed Aaron Finch - to make just 31 runs in the last six overs for the loss of five wickets.
The conditions were difficult to handle, with Kolkata's bowlers consistently slipping in slower cutters and the ball keeping low and the middle order, featuring three changes from the previous game, struggled in the wake of the increasing pressure. Abhishek Raut and Paras Dogra fell in their attempt to step up, and Dinda's last over involved two more wickets, as Rajasthan, in a must-win game, disappointed with the bat.
Kolkata needed an attacking start in their pursuit of a big win to propel their net run-rate, but were deprived by the early loss of Brendon McCullum and Chris Gayle. Ganguly had warmed up well with three boundaries, but Kamran Khan's double-strike in the third over - he snared McCullum with a full toss and bowled Gayle through the gate - prompted a change in approach with Kolkata opting for a game of caution, postponing their acceleration. Each of the next five overs featured a boundary, but only 22 were scored off them as most balls, barring the bad ones that were dispatched, were pushed towards fielders inside the circle.
The quest to pierce the field and hunt for more singles was evident in the first couple of overs following the time-out, and it was in the 12th over that Ganguly displayed the belated aggression, making room and charging down the track to strike Yusuf for two boundaries. He and Cheteshwar Pujara then followed up with a six each in the next over from Voges. Ganguly hammered consecutive fours off Siddharth Trivedi and helped smote 15 in Faiz Fazal's only over to help Kolkata past their target with 23 balls to spare, but the result, despite its convincing margin, may yet prove inadequate for Kolkata when the final four are determined.
Siddhartha Talya is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo