Sourav Ganguly hit a composed half-century and Manoj Tiwary exploded after a slow start to boost Kolkata Knight Riders to 183, a total beyond the reach of a listless Kings XI Punjab. It was a mediocre game, especially from Punjab, who were so painfully slow that they fell out of the reckoning very early in the chase.
It made for strange viewing that no one took ownership of the chase as the game kept slipping away from Punjab. Yuvraj Singh and Manvinder Bisla hit a few boundaries early on in the piece but both fell to Ajit Agarkar - Manoj Tiwary held on to a splendid running catch at deep midwicket to remove Yuvraj - and the chase started to derail. What baffled was the approach of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, who allowed the pressure to mount. They didn't go for any big shots and left themselves with too much to do in the end. With the run-rate mounting at an exponential rate, both fell while going for high-risk shots: Jayawardene moved outside off stump and couldn't connect with the paddle shot, and Sangakkara was stumped as he lost balance while going for a reverse slog. Game over.
The victory, though, was set up by Kolkata's batting, led by Ganguly and Tiwary. It was an interesting innings: just when the visitors were letting things slip, they would attack. Their batting graph resembled a sine curve: Kolkata attacked at the top before they suddenly lost steam and meandered for a while, but they picked up the momentum after the first time-out. They slowed down once again towards the end but Tiwary looted 21 runs in the final over, bowled by Irfan Pathan, to regain lost ground.
The start too was frenetic with Brett Lee's first over on comeback going for 19 runs. Chris Gayle hit some smashing drives but, to be fair to the bowler, there was an edged boundary and a yorker that went for four byes as well. And when Ganguly went after Pathan in the second over, lifting him over cover and smashing him to the straight boundary, Kolkata had reached a healthy 27 for 0, but suddenly, against the run of play, they started to slow down.
Shalabh Srivastava struck for Punjab, removing Gayle with more than little help from Bisla, who charged to his left on the deep square-leg boundary and lunged as the ball swerved away from him to take a stunning two-handed catch. Ganguly collected a couple of boundaries but, with Tiwary struggling at the start, the run-rate started to dip. There were 27 dot balls in the first ten overs, nearly five full overs of stagnation, but the time-out allowed Kolkata to regroup and come out firing.
All of a sudden, Tiwary started finding his touch and two shots in particular showcased his skill. The first was against a near yorker-length delivery well outside off, he reached out to crash it to cover boundary. The second was even better. Ravi Bopara's yorker was heading towards off and middle, when Tiwary crouched to play a delicate late-cut to the third-man boundary. In between, he swung over midwicket, and backed away from the stumps to drive through off. Ganguly lashed out at Piyush Chawla, lofting and flaying him for boundaries and runs started to come in a flood.
However, Kolkata lost momentum again after the fall of Ganguly - hitting Pathan to long-off. From 124 for 2 in 14 overs, they slowed down to 162 for 4 in 19. Tiwary then took Pathan apart in the final over, smashing four boundaries - a pulled six after which he backed away to find the wide long-off boundary repeatedly. The brutal finish seemed to have sucked out the spirit from Punjab, who dawdled in the chase.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo