A day of great political change in Bengal, with three decades of Communist domination coming to a dramatic end, was almost matched on the field by the team from Kolkata - almost but, yet again, not enough to end the Knight Riders' losing streak. They have lost several close games this season, but few have been as heart-breaking as this last-ball defeat against the Deccan Chargers, where in an incredible final over Mashrafe Mortaza went into meltdown and Rohit Sharma slammed the 21 runs to script a sensational victory. The success gives Deccan a boost in the intense scrap for the semi-final places, lifting them to third place with 14 points.
It was a match filled with talking points but none more so than the no-ball called on the first ball of the final over of the match with Kolkata deemed to have only three fielders in the circle. Brendon McCullum was livid with the umpire but, after lengthy discussions between him and the umpires, the decision stood. It had been hit for four past square leg as well, which meant that Deccan needed only 16 off the over, far more gettable than the initial 21.
The expensively acquired Mortaza, getting his first game of the tournament after an increasing clamour for his inclusion, kept the batsmen to two off the next two deliveries before giving the game away. A full toss on middle stump was swiped over midwicket for one of the biggest sixes of the tournament, and then there was a wide. Seven needed off three.
Rohit coolly punched one to long-on for two, then crashed the next ball wide of cover for four. One needed off the last ball, and Rohit completed the turnaround in high style pulling it for six to leave Mortaza with the unflattering figures of 4-0-58-0.
It undid all the good work of the previous two overs, when Kolkata relentlessly built up an advantage. Mortaza himself gave away only seven runs in the 18th and dismissed danger man Andrew Symonds with an agile run out. Ajit Agarkar, who had gifted away Kolkata's previous game, was also superb, with a mix of yorkers and low full tosses that Deccan found hard to get underneath.
It hadn't seemed that it would get this close when Adam Gilchrist provided Deccan his customary blistering start, swinging sixes over midwicket and peppering the off-side boundaries as well. The introduction of spin stemmed the runs, with Murali Kartik troubling the batsmen with his sharp turn and bounce. The part-timers Brad Hodge and David Hussey also put the squeeze on, and after Gilchrist holed out in the 10th over, the asking-rate started steadily spiraling upwards, till Rohit's heroics settled the matter.
It had been a cameo almost as incandescent as Rohit's that lifted Kolkata towards a defendable score. When Hussey walked out after 14.5 overs, Kolkata had plodded along to 85 for 2. He hurtled to a 17-ball 43 which nearly doubled their total by the end.
There was an over almost as dramatic as Mashrafe's final one when Deccan were bowling as well. The penultimate over was started off by RP Singh, who was forced out of the attack after sending down two above waist-high full tosses and just one legitimate delivery. Eight had already been taken off the over but worse was to follow when Harmeet Singh was brought on to complete it. Hussey swatted a short ball for four, then collected a couple of hard-run twos, before bludgeoning two sixes to round off the over. Twenty-eight came off it, the most expensive one of the tournament.
Despite Hussey's efforts, Kolkata only reached a middling 160 because of the go-slow of the earlier batsmen. Hodge and Sourav Ganguly couldn't get any sort of momentum going after the McCullum dismissal in the fifth over, only 25 runs coming in the six overs before the strategic break.
Ganguly, in particular, had a torrid time. One of his signature strokes during his high noon was the dance down the track to deposit the left-arm spinner over long-on. He attempted that shot off Pragyan Ojha's first over; not only did he miss the ball, he was struck a painful blow to the groin, and spent a few moments on his knees to get his breath back.
There was a controversial moment in the seventh over, when he stuck out his left hand to stop the ball as he was completing a single. Deccan appealed for 'obstructing the field' and when it was turned down, they were not too pleased with the decision, Gilchrist letting the umpire S Ravi know that the throw had been heading for the stumps.
At the other end, Hodge wasn't at his best either, only able to knock around the singles, and was especially uncomfortable against the spinners. Ganguly tried to get a move on after the time-out, but his struggle continued before the misery ended when he found the fielder at long-off in the 15th over. Hodge managed to string together some fours before Hussey's frenetic intervention, but a nerveless Rohit consigned them to another defeat.