On a square turner, Kolkata Knight Riders out-spun Kings XI Punjab to move to become joint leaders on the points table, although the other team, Mumbai Indians, have a game in hand. Iqbal Abdulla and Yusuf Pathan took the big wickets - Adam Gilchrist, Paul Valthaty and David Hussey - for 43 runs in eight overs, exploiting the conditions to the fullest. Eoin Morgan and Gautam Gambhir, two of the best players of spin on show tonight, made sure the chase was smooth.
It took Gambhir just the three overs to realise that there was no point offering the batsmen pace on this track. In fact it was a track where even medium-pacer Rajat Bhatia turned his slower legbreaks appreciably. Gambhir's fielders complemented their slow bowlers, Punjab's indecisive running compounded their woes. At 22 for 0 after three overs, Abdulla immediately started turning the ball at right angles. Valthaty succumbed to the pressure, hitting Yusuf straight to long-on. Gilchrist, pulled back from 18 off 14 to 26 off 26, looked to manufacture a pull off a length. This was the straighter delivery from Abdulla, and snuck through Gilchrist's legs.
Either side of Gilchrist's dismissal, Shaun Marsh and Abhishek Nayar were run out: Marsh caught ball-watching when hit on the pad, and Nayar slow off the blocks when trying a tight single. At 53 for 4 in the 10th over, Gambhir's captaincy shone through. He was not content with the early wickets. Almost every new batsman walked out to a slip and a silly point. Gambhir himself stayed under the helmet.
While the wickets didn't come, they always lurked around the corner. The cautious batsmen couldn't do much about the poor run-rate. Bhatia cannily played the role of the third spinner, dealing almost exclusively in slower legcutters. The 18 runs off his four overs included four overthrows.
A 33-run stabilising stand between Dinesh Karthik and Hussey threatened much, but Abdulla came back to end it in the 15th over. Three overs after he had survived a shout for a plumb lbw, Hussey was now given out to a delivery that could have perhaps slid down the leg side. Karthik nudged and swept his way to 42 off 42, but couldn't provide that final kick. Only 33 came off the last five overs, which meant that the run-rate never crossed six an over after it slipped under the mark in the seventh over.
It was a chase that could have easily gone wrong on a difficult track. Al least it threatened to when Jacques Kallis got out to the first ball of left-arm spin of Bhargav Bhatt, who opened the bowling. Morgan, however, took out whatever enthusiasm the Punjab side might have had. He judged lengths early, moved feet decisively, and his 15-ball 28 made sure there was no run-rate pressure on the rest.
Gambhir negated the spinners expertly, showing off his version of quick footwork. Perhaps because he is the captain, he was less flashy than Morgan. He relied on pressing forward, then waiting for the bowler to bowl short for a nudge into the leg side. If the bowler didn't pitch short, like Piyush Chawla tried, he chipped him well over the infield. With support forthcoming from Manoj Tiwary, the rest was an evening walk at Eden Gardens.