After a torrid run through the first seven matches of the IPL, Sourav Ganguly the batsman finally made his presence felt in stunning style, carving a 57-ball 91 to fashion a convincing 23-run win for the Kolkata Knight Riders, their fourth of the tournament. Ganguly's knock, coupled with a blinder from David Hussey, lifted Kolkata to an imposing 204, which was far too much for the hapless Deccan Chargers, who collapsed to their seventh defeat in nine games and are all but out of the competition.
Kolkata's batting display was the perfect example in pacing a 20-over innings. Through the first half, Ganguly and Aakash Chopra batted steadily and built a platform: after ten overs, only 73 were on the board, but with nine wickets in hand, there was plenty of ammunition left. That was put to outstanding use later in the innings, as Hussey blitzed 57 off 29 balls in a 102-run partnership that came off a mere eight overs to set up a target which ensured Deccan have lost all four games at home.
Ganguly had shone with the ball in Kolkata's previous match, but he had struggled with the bat, unable to find the balance between defence and attack, often pottering around the crease and ultimately choosing the wrong ball to attack. All that changed completely here - the shot-selection was exemplary in the early part, and once he found his groove, he cut loose with such ferocity that none of the bowlers had any answers.
The key for him, though, was to survive the early exchanges and get a start. There was plenty of careful defending through the early part, but importantly, there were no half measures on the attack, as he gave himself room, moved his front foot out of the way, and smeared lofted hits over mid-on and cover. Chaminda Vaas and P Vijaykumar, the new-ball bowlers, were at the receiving end early, and when they shifted the line to leg stump, Ganguly cleverly shuffled across and pulled or flicked to the fine-leg boundary. In between these improvisations was one classical square drive, all timing and grace, when RP Singh strayed in line.
Having done the hard work, Ganguly then turned it on in style. Throughout his international career, he hasn't had much regard for left-arm spin, and here Pragyan Ojha was the chosen one, as Ganguly smacked two sixes and a four down the ground in the 14th over to signal the beginning of the onslaught. By now he was in supreme form, and it hardly mattered who the bowler was: Styris was pulled and lofted for successive sixes, while the listless Vaas - who struggled with his length and served up a series of full tosses - was carved over midwicket.
Hussey joined in on the fun too, gauging the pace of the pitch immediately and striking it cleanly from the get-go. After spanking Vaas for ten off two deliveries, he turned his attention to RP, whose attempts at yorkers were either too short or too full. Twenty came off the 18th over, all courtesy Hussey, who bludgeoned a couple of leg-side sixes as the last seven overs leaked 115.
Deccan didn't help their cause in the field either: apart from Herschelle Gibbs, the rest put in a woeful display. There were misfields galore, Vaas muffed a sitter late in the innings to reprieve Tatenda Taibu, while the last ball of the innings encapsulated the day's performance, as RP's attempt to throw down the stumps missed the mark and resulted in four overthrows.
After such a battering in the field, Deccan's only hope was for Adam Gilchrist to fire - especially since Shahid Afridi wasn't in the line-up - but he only managed 24 before miscuing a pull off the impressive Ashok Dinda. The out-of-sorts Gibbs, who has now scored 45 in five innings, had already fallen in Dinda's second over, leaving the rest of the batsmen with far too much to do.
Ganguly, who took the catch to dismiss Gilchrist, was in the thick of things in the field as well, bowling four economical overs, and taking two wickets, including that of Styris, another big name who has done little. Rohit Sharma offered a glimmer of hope with a couple of typically classy sixes off Ganguly, but, quite fittingly, Ganguly had the last laugh, snaffling him at midwicket.
Venugopal Rao played a brave hand with a 42-ball 71 and spoilt the figures of Murali Kartik by smashing three sixes in an over, but that only ensured the margin of defeat wasn't an embarrassing one. With four wins from eight games, Kolkata are back in the reckoning for a semi-final berth. Deccan still have a mathematical chance of making the top four, but given their form so far, that will be a miracle.