Sunrisers Hyderabad 174 for 7 (Saha 35, Rashid 34*, Kuldeep 2-29) beat Kolkata Knight Riders 160 for 9 (Lynn 48, Rashid 3-19, Brathwaite 2-15) by 14 runs
Thirty-four runs off 10 balls when his team was struggling to post a competitive total. Three wickets, including of the highest scorer and the biggest hitter in the opposition. One run-out of a batsman proving to be a great tactical move. Two catches. Rashid Khan single-handedly ended Sunrisers Hyderabad's four-match losing streak to beat Kolkata Knight Riders and set up fourth bout against Chennai Super Kings this season, this time for the IPL title.
Sunrisers were 134 for 6 in 17.5 overs when Rashid came out to bat. He produced an innings to rattle the young Knight Riders bowlers much like their captain Dinesh Karthik had recently done to the Bangladesh bowlers in the Nidahas Trophy final. Then Rashid came on to bowl with Knight Riders cruising at 67 for 1 in six overs, but took out Chris Lynn, Robin Uthappa, and crucially, Andre Russell in the last over that he bowled. There was a run-out in between to dismiss Nitish Rana, whose promotion had upset Sunrisers' plans.
Kuldeep Yadav lands lethal blows
Because they don't have David Warner, because their middle order has been out of form, Sunrisers Hyderabad have been conservative with the bat. Against a side whose batting looks like the future of T20, they got off to a cautious 45 for 0 Powerplay score, the lowest in Kolkata this season. In the eighth over, Kuldeep Yadav took out Shikhar Dhawan and Kane Williamson, two men who had accounted for nearly half their runs in the season so far. Dhawan missed the length on a sweep, and Williamson added himself to the highlight reel of great batsmen who have fallen to wrong'uns this season: AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni.
Muddle in the middle
At 60 for 2 in 7.5 overs, Sunrisers needed someone in the reimagined middle order to play out of his skin but that didn't happen. The Knight Riders spinners choked the life out of them, and the low run rate kept bringing wickets. When Carlos Brathwaite ran himself out in the 18th over to become the sixth wicket to fall, Sunrisers were looking at nothing short of another bowling miracle if they had to make it to Mumbai.
Possibly, Knight Riders dropped the guard with Brathwaite's wicket. There was some luck involved. And there was some sensational hitting. Young Prasidh Krishna, who had bowled a good 18th over until then, suddenly ditched the yorker and bowled a wide length ball with third man up. The edge flew over him. In the next over, with Yusuf Pathan gone too, Piyush Chawla left his station at the cover boundary and charged in, only to be lobbed by a Rashid mis-hit. Had he stayed on the boundary, he would have been offered a sitter. And then Rashid just went berserk. The best of his four sixes and two fours brought back memories of Viv Richards shuffling across and flicking the last ball of the 1979 World Cup final innings for a six. This was the fourth ball of the last over. He added one more six of the last ball of this innings.
Perfect start to chase
A bit of a tactical tinkering, and Knight Riders were off to a perfect start. Sunil Narine did his thing with 26 off 13, by the virtue of being a left-hand batsman, Nitish Rana was promoted to delay the introduction of Rashid and Shakib Al Hasan, who in turn would have troubled Lynn whose strike rate against quicks is twice that against spin. As a result, Lynn had to face only two balls of spin in the first eight overs, by when he reached 36 off 21, taking Knight Riders to 81 for 1.
And then Rana slipped when turning for a second. Not only did he slip, he found himself taking on Rashid's arm when he got up. The throw was flat, quick, and by the stumps. This brought Robin Uthappa in, and Williamson immediately went to Bhuvneshwar Kumar for a third over inside the first 10. Before this match, in this season, Bhuvneshwar had bowled 11 balls to Uthappa for four runs and one wicket. Unlike against CSK in the first qualifier, Williamson was not holding back here. Five balls and one run in this over put Uthappa under pressure, who as a result tried a reverse sweep on the first ball of the next over and was bowled by Rashid.
The endgame before the endgame
The two balls of spin that Lynn had faced in the first eight overs had been sweeps. The next three he faced from Rashid were sweeps again. On one of them, his glove saved him from the lbw. On one, he hit an uppish boundary. Rashid, though, could sense he was getting closer to the prey. In Test cricket you can torture this prey at leisure and get him. In T20 you don't have time. One shot, and he can get away. Rashid didn't let him. With the sixth, he adjusted the line a little, went for lbw on the off stump rather than middle, and beat the bat. Only Russell remained now.
Williamson persisted with Rashid, deciding to bowl him in the 15th over, with 58 required off six overs. Russell knew what was happening. He started to block Rashid. A slip came in. Another block. Then Williamson made Russell wait. A helmet and a box came on to the field. The short leg fielder took his time to put it on. The faithful local crowd got twitchy. Rashid knew he had three balls to get Russell in. He bounded in, bowled a wrong'un, not particularly great as it was short, Russell went back to cut, got an edge, and Dhawan took an amazing catch as the ball swirled away from him at slip. It wasn't a great ball, but Kumar Sangakkara said on air this is what happens when you are not sure which way the ball is turning and you make the decision a split second late.
In the qualifier, Williamson had made a mistake by bowling Brathwaite in the 18th over, thus not even utilising all of Bhuvneshwar's over. This time, no such thing happened. Siddarth Kaul and Bhuvneshwar bowled excellent overs No. 17, 18 and 19 to shut the chase out. And defending 18 in the last over at the same venue where he chased 19 in the last over of the World T20 final two years ago, Brathwaite managed two wickets with two length balls to finish things off. It was fitting both those catches went to Rashid.