A minefield of a pitch at Eden Gardens was the setting for an intense thriller as the Kolkata Knight Riders, driven by an innings of grit and tenacity from David Hussey, scraped home by five wickets in a low-scorer against Deccan Chargers. There was no shortage of drama during the chase of 111 and a floodlight failure towards the end only added to the tension. In the end, Kolkata managed their second straight victory and the usually raucous home crowd got their money's worth.
Though a target of 111 appeared modest by Twenty20 standards, the surface ensured batsmen would have to battle for every run. The game hung in the balance with Kolkata requiring 22 off 20 balls, before the lights suddenly failed. Hussey, though, sealed the deal once play resumed. Giving the charge to Scott Styris, he deposited him for a huge six over long-on before flicking him to fine leg for four the following ball. Ten runs in a crunch situation was far too many and it was only fitting that Hussey clinched it with a six.
Twenty20 cricket is perceived to be a batsman's game but the proceedings today threw those notions out of the window, temporarily at least. The initial reading of the pitch pointed to another high-scoring game but little did Hyderabad know that they were actually walking onto a minefield, and reality struck home as early as the second over.
Ishant Sharma got deliveries to balloon off a good length and his fearsome pace only exacerbated the agony for the batsmen. Each time the ball thudded on the surface, a puff of dust went along with it and that was to be a regular feature.
The surface had even the most experienced of batsmen at sea. VVS Laxman's stint was nothing short of a nightmare. He was the victim of a nasty Ishant lifter which kicked and rapped him on the glove. A worried Billy Bowden immediately whipped out his walkie-talkie, presumably communicating his anxieties about the dustbowl, but after a brief hold-up, play continued. He departed soon after, miscuing a pull off a delivery that stopped on him.
Following a brief carnage by Adam Gilchrist, during which he creamed Ajit Agarkar for 16 off one over, Sourav Ganguly swiftly halted the charge by operating spinners from both ends. The move intensified the pressure on the hapless batsmen, as deliveries gripped and turned square, reminiscent of a crumbling fifth-day pitch.
As wickets tumbled, a helpless Symonds at the other end struggled to push the scoring but cut loose in the 17th over, clattering two sixes over midwicket off David Hussey, who had the last laugh when he hung on to a skier to get rid of Symonds as the innings folded up in the 19th over.
While one would have expected Kolkata to approach the chase with caution, Brendon McCullum was having nothing of it. Taking guard like a gladiator preparing for a duel in Rome's Colloseum, with a golden helmet to boot, he walked across his stumps off the first ball and whipped Chaminda Vaas down fine leg. However, following his masterclass unbeaten 158 in Bangalore, he learnt a harsh lesson in humility after falling rather tamely for 5, lobbing a leading edge straight to Rohit Sharma at point. A double-strike by Vaas sent back Ricky Ponting and Wriddhiman Saha, though Ponting could be consider himself a tad unlucky, with replays indicating the ball sailing over the stumps.
At 21 for 3, it was game on and the pitch didn't show any signs of easing up. Ganguly, like his opposing number Laxman, was the victim of a real snorter from Vaas that struck him flush on the chest. Styris appeared most lethal off the pitch, rolling his fingers, getting it to turn square and kick up.
The pressure was on as Laxman packed the infield to cut off the singles. Ganguly felt the heat as almost every soft push was intercepted by the fielders and even as he shaped to drive through the line, the pitch would send the ball darting in another direction. At one stage, Kolkata were living off wides alone as the surface left very little margin for error even for the bowlers.
After pushing and prodding for his 14, Ganguly finally departed trying to slog the left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha. His partner Hussey bravely defied the bowling at the other end, making room and carving Sanjay Bangar over extra cover for six and Mohammad Hafeez too eased the pressure, lauching Symonds over long-on. Just when Kolkata had a partnership going, Hafeez fell to a moment of indiscretion, reverse-sweeping Ojha to Symonds at cover just before the lights went out. The scores were freakishly tied at that stage on Duckworth/Lewis and had no play been possible, we perhaps would have witnessed a bowl-out. The lights eventually came back on and Hussey saluted the din at the Eden Gardens with an unbeaten 38. Kolkata silently would have thanked an invisible figure called Extras, which contributed 28 to the chase.