The much-ridiculed underdogs of this year, Kolkata Knight Riders, have ended the tournament for the original underdogs, but not before they almost made a mess of the chase. Laxmi Shukla was the saviour for Kolkata, after they had stumbled to 45 for 6 in 11.3 overs. They had Charl Langeveldt to thank as well for pinning down Rajasthan Royals, and his 3 for 15 exposed Kolkata's blunder of not playing him throughout the tournament.
The lesson to learn was not to write off Rajasthan till the end. Not even when they are defending just 101 in a must-win game. At the half-way mark, after a frenzied innings during which they added just 79 to the 22 they got from the first over, the tournament seemed all over for Rajasthan. One final twist remained.
Even that seemed to be flattening out soon after Brendon McCullum hit two boundaries off the first two balls of the chase. The final figures of Munaf Patel after those two fours, 4-0-14-2, epitomised the comeback.
Munaf got Sourav Ganguly in that first over, and Amit Singh sent back McCullum with the first ball he bowled from the other end. That was the piece of fortune Rajasthan needed, as the half-tracker rose only as high as McCullum's knees. On a cracking pitch, Shane Warne's innovative field placings, and smart bowling by his bowlers worked superbly after that. Even Brad Hodge and David Hussey, the pair who was key during Kolkata's chase of 189 against Chennai Super Kings, found it extremely difficult to score.
Naman Ojha did superbly to dismiss Brad Hodge, who looked to run after dropping Johan Botha's first delivery at his feet. He had barely taken a step, but couldn't make his way back. More pressure and smart bowling followed. Botha and Warne followed the first seven-over spell of 30 runs by the medium-pacers with a five-over spell of 17. And wickets fell consistently throughout.
Hussey got a top-edge thanks to Botha's extra bounce, and Shoaib Shaikh ran himself out. But when Shukla, was dropped on 6 off a Warne flipper by Ojha, the final turnaround started.
Shukla batted sensibly, choosing well when to go bog, and when to accumulate. He knew he needed only two or three big hits, which would be enough to set the cat among the pigeons. His first break came when he went after Warne in the 13th over, and cleared the wide long-on boundary easily.
His next assault came in Ravindra Jadeja's second over, the 16th of the innings. Shukla went over extra cover first ball, and managed three more couples through that over. It was indeed a tough match for Jadeja, who was involved in two run-outs, failed to make up for those run-outs, and then bowled one over too many.
Shukla's turnaround finished as it started, with some luck from behind the wicket, as Ojha missed on two run-out opportunities as Shukla and Ajit Agarkar stole two byes in the 19th and 20th overs, with five and four still required respectively.
Spare a thought for Ojha, though. Apart from that brilliant run-out of Hodge's earlier in the piece, Ojha had got Rajasthan off to the best start a team could have imagined. It was Hodge who suffered at his hands then too. He slogged and lofted Hodge's first over to take 22, the most expensive first over of the tournament. But as he had Shukla to spoil his good work in the second innings, there was Langeveldt in the first.
How fitting it was that when Langeveldt finally got a game he was not given the first over. But the first ball Langeveldt bowled was a bouncer that hurried Rob Quiney up, got the top edge and nestled in wicketkeeper Shoaib Shaikh's gloves. The extra pace and bounce was obvious and the away movement lethal. In his next over, Langeveldt removed Ojha, with one that kicked off from just back of a length, and moved away too. In between these two strikes, Swapnil Asnodkar ran himself out when going for a single. From 22 for no loss, Rajasthan had slid to 28 for 3 in 15 balls.
Kolkata then hustled Rajasthan with quick bowling and athletic fielding. When Langeveldt came back to remove Niraj Patel's wicket, Rajasthan had stumbled to 62 for 5 at the half-way stage. Two disastrous run-outs followed. When Yusuf Pathan dug a yorker out, Jadeja called him for one, then realised the ball had traveled too fast towards Shukla, the bowler. Jadeja didn't go through, and the most dangerous batsman in the team was left stranded. Jadeja's face told a story of guilt. Three balls later, when Jadeja called Tyron Henderson for a quick single, he found to his horror that Henderson was too slow, and that Hussey had hit the stumps direct.
None of Dinda, Agarkar, Sourav Sarkar or Shukla provided Rajasthan any respite later, and the last 3.4 overs got Rajasthan only nine runs. The last over, from Agarkar, went for 21 less than the first.