For the first time in what has been a mediocre campaign, the Kings XI Punjab arrived at the ground with three words carved in their minds: find a way. Yuvraj Singh, with his team in a do-or-die scenario, decided on fielding first on an obscure track and his bowlers vindicated that, limiting Delhi Daredevils to 120. They nearly muffed up a small chase, losing early wickets in a chaotic first six overs and then struggling after the strategic time-out, but yet again Kumar Sangakkara's level-headedness and Irfan Pathan's clutch hitting came up trumps. Delhi failed to hold it together defending a poor total, but can still make the semis even if they don't win any of their remaining games.
The side clinging on for hope before the semi-finals played with grit, while the one on song with near-flawless performances this season turned in a poor display. Brett Lee handed Virender Sehwag another poor score, Sreesanth dismissed Delhi's most consistent pair, and Lee returned with an inestimable wicket-maiden 17th over to help set up an achievable chase.
If any Delhi batsman needed time at the crease ahead of the semi-finals, it was Sehwag, but he again fell cheaply, ticking a short Lee delivery down the leg side. Sehwag has yet to cross 38 in this tournament - and seven innings have added up to only 107 runs. In the next over, Gautam Gambhir steered the ball to deep backward point but didn't run the first one hard enough and was done in by a good throw.
With two wickets from four matches at 69.50 at an economy rate of 10.69, coming into this match, you could have said Sreesanth was lucky to get another chance. But he was on top of his game today with four tidy overs of nippy medium pace that accounted for AB de Villiers and Tillakaratne Dilshan. Sreesanth got his act together by hitting probing lines and finding just the hint of swing needed to keep the batsmen guessing, and though he didn't have further success, the damage had been done.
Punjab kept a check on proceedings during the Powerplay, allowing only four boundaries, one of which was down to poor fielding by Lee at third man. Dinesh Karthik and Mithun Manhas strung together a 50-run partnership but neither was allowed to cause much damage. The 17th over was priceless for Punjab, during which Lee had Farveez Maharoof ducking, slashing and fishing before knocking him over. Lee picked up his third wicket with the first ball of the penultimate over and finished with 3 for 15. He bowled fast, bent the ball back on a couple occasions, and offered the batsmen nothing. It was just what his captain would've expected given Punjab's predicament.
Then their chase began frenetically and an upset seemed likely. In between two tidy overs that cost just four runs Simon Katich plundered 18 off six balls from Pradeep Sangwan. Maharoof dismissed him with his first ball, only to serve up three no-balls in a 13-run over. Ashish Nehra bowled Sunny Sohal for 3, after which Gambhir let off Yuvraj Singh at slip. Maharoof roped in his line and had Luke Pomersbach caught splendidly by de Villiers, who replaced Gambhir at slip.
Delhi only allowed one more four before the strategic break, with Nehra returning frugal figures of 4-1-6-1. This was Nehra's best spell all tournament, one based on an asphyxiating back-of-a-length line. He is now tied first with 16 wickets.
From needing 71 from the last ten overs, Sangakkara whittled it down to 44 from 36. He leaned heavily on reserves of patience he's showed before in this IPL, chalking out which bowlers to go for and what areas to target. His bat came down to cut the wide deliveries with clinical precision. With Daniel Vettori wheeling through his first three overs and only giving 11, Punjab needed to find a loose over. They got two. Sangakkara made room to chip Rajat Bhatia repeatedly over the off side, or slap the ball through the arc between point and gully for ones and twos. Bhatia's two overs cost 19 and that helped Punjab immensely.
The equation was 35 from 30 balls when Sangwan came back for the 16th over. Yuvraj failed to connect on the first three balls, drove two down the ground, and then slapped the fifth straight to point. That two-run wicket over was followed up by just three in Bhatia's third, and now Punjab were sweating.
Step up Irfan. Sangwan choked, and a half-tracker and full toss were duly dumped for sixes. That made it 42 from four overs for Sangwan, criminal when defending a small total. From ten an over required, the asking rate was now seven and a half. Maharoof chipped in with two wides, then craned his neck as Irfan clubbed another six. Having done so well between overs nine and seventeen, Delhi lost the plot. Irfan's 21 from 11 balls proved immense.
Punjab came to Bloemfontein needing a win, and they've done that. It is one massive step in the right direction.