A few days ago, individual brilliance from Chris Lynn had given Kolkata Knight Riders a win from nowhere, which sparked wild celebrations. Today they experienced what it was like to be on the receiving end of such an unexpected result. Knight Riders needed only 16 off 12 balls with six wickets in hand, when their middle and lower order capsized against James Faulkner in the penultimate over.
Shakib Al Hasan forced the match into a Super Over and Knight Riders would have been confident of Sunil Narine defending 12. But with three needed to win off the last ball, Steven Smith played a smart dab into the vacant space at extra cover and ran an easy two, levelling the match again and taking Rajasthan Royals to a thrilling win on the basis of a greater number of boundaries scored in the match.
For Knight Riders, it should have never come to that stage. Faulkner hadn't had the best of times in this year's IPL and was benched for a match after ordinary outings in his first three games, but bowled an inspirational over to turn the game on its head.
Cameos from Suryakumar Yadav and Shakib had almost brought Knight Riders on the doorstep of a smartly constructed innings and a win seemed there for the taking. They had added 49 runs in 26 balls. Then, Faulkner's slower balls, so effective last year, made a sparkling re-entry.
Yadav, looking for a big hit, sliced the first ball of the 19th over to long-off to fall for a 19-ball 31. It was still Knight Riders' game, but Faulkner's fourth and fifth deliveries proved to be the icing on his birthday cake as Robin Uthappa and Vinay Kumar missed straight deliveries to be bowled. Six balls, three wickets and 12 off nine became 12 off 6. With Shakib still around, Knight Riders still had some chance - they kept up with the task as Shakib squeezed a boundary off the first ball off the last over. Kane Richardson did not bowl the best of overs, serving leg-side balls and half-volleys. Shakib failed to connect properly again in the over, but managed to tie the game. However, Smith's presence of mind off the last delivery of the Super Over that won them two points showed Royals were in no mood to spoil Faulkner's birthday party.
One of the heartening side stories for the Knight Riders to emerge despite the loss was Gautam Gambhir's return to form. Gambhir didn't set the stage on fire - the slower Abu Dhabi pitch was never going to allow that sort of strokeplay and that's not Gambhir's game anyway - but his 45 from 44 deliveries was the ideal platform for the middle-order strokemakers.
Such had been the drought that Gambhir would have been satisfied with anything of substance; he had hardly spent any time in the middle. He ended up playing the solid knock that was needed at the top of the order following the template Ajinkya Rahane, who top-scored with 72, had set in the first half of the match. A pull shot off the gentle medium pace of Stuart Binny didn't run to the boundary but was the ideal tonic for a sagging spirit.
Once he had played a few balls though, Gambhir was in familiar territory, comfortably nudging the ball into the gaps and using his feet to the slower bowlers. Familiar with Rajat Bhatia's tricks, Gambhir handled his Delhi teammate with ease, once using his feet to carve a slower delivery over extra cover in trademark fashion. But he was caught in the boundary to a sweep shot, five short of his half-century. His team's fate followed a similar course: Solid, but not being able to finish it off.