Ganguly and Gul end Kolkata's campaign on a high
The Kolkata Knight Riders' final game of the season provided Sourav Ganguly and his team a chance to redeem themselves in front of their home fans. An insipid performance in the field and for three-fourths of the chase suggested the campaign would end on a low note but, after Umar Gul sparked life into the chase, Ganguly did the rest to upset Kings XI Punjab's winning momentum ahead of the knockout stages.
After 15 overs, Kolkata were stumbling at 104 for 5, needing an improbable 71 more. Two runs and three balls later they lost Aakash Chopra and in walked Umar Gul, who had taken 4 for 23. After playing the first ball from James Hopes back to the bowler, he proceeded to smash the next two for six - he connected the first in the nick of time for a pull and the ball surprisingly sailed into the stands, the second was sent over long-on.
That seemed to inspire Ganguly, who made Yuvraj Singh rue the decision to bowl Piyush Chawla. Ganguly launched a straight six, swept one for four, and sent one flying over midwicket. Twenty-eight runs had come in the space of five balls, and the chase was back on track.
Sreesanth had delivered a probing first spell but Gul took his chance, and 16 runs off the over - a six and two fours, off the bat and off the leg - brought the equation down to 23 off two.
VRV Singh bowled the penultimate over, removing Gul and giving away only eight runs, leaving 15 needed off the final six balls. The stage was set for Ganguly and he didn't disappoint the Kolkata faithful. The first ball from Irfan Pathan was whipped over the square-leg boundary, followed by a two and another six straight down the ground to tie the score before a single sealed the win.
Punjab, who had clinched two consecutive games in the final over, would have felt their total of 174 - the highest total at Eden Gardens - was enough. Their innings was dominated yet again by their top order. Kumar Sangakkara and Shaun Marsh continued from their partnership against the Deccan Chargers, and Punjab punished Kolkata's lacklustre effort in the field - barring Umar Gul's splendid effort with the ball, there was hardly any spark in Kolkata's performance.
Sangakkara showed off his silken touch and found the boundaries effortlessly. Along with deft touches, he managed to improvise as well; he moved across against Laxmi Ratan Shukla, and swatted the ball over short third man with ease. Marsh wasn't to be outscored, and hit Sri Lankan spin sensation Ajantha Mendis for fours. He then smashed two sixes, premeditating a slog-sweep over midwicket off Shukla, before depositing David Hussey over the straight boundary. But another charge against Mendis landed straight into the hands of Chopra at long-on.
Unfortunately for Sangakkara, a dodgy leg-before decision went against him. Kolkata's fielding was woeful, with several misfields going for fours and a few spilled chances. Yuvraj has been struggling for form in the tournament but he was given a reprieve. He got a top-edge, and Ganguly ran back from midwicket to get under the skier, but Chopra, coming in from deep called and was better placed to take it; the two collided, and the ball popped out of Ganguly's hands.
Yuvraj added insult to injury by smashing three fours in Ishant Sharma's final over, and the IPL's most expensive bowler, who has had a disappointing tournament, ended with 49 runs from four overs. But Gul, a steal at US$150,000 considering his World Twenty20 heroics, managed to fire in the yorkers, and after he gave just eight in his first spell, removing James Hopes, he came back to remove the set Sangakkara, who was readying to tee off. Only four came off the final over he bowled, with two scalps, and his 4 for 23 ensured Punjab's score wasn't out of Kolkata's reach.
Mathew Varghese is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo