It almost ended before it was allowed to begin. Yusuf Pathan had started to walk off as he top-edged a Karn Sharma delivery towards deep mid-wicket. Somehow, Anirudha Srikkanth contrived to drop an absolute sitter. Given a life on nought, Pathan wrought devastation and secured a top-two finish for the Kolkata Knight Riders.
The Sunrisers Hyderabad had set a target of 161 and Kolkata had to get there in 15.2 overs to upstage the Chennai Super Kings. They managed it in a meagre 14.2 overs.
Entertained by arguably the best batting performance of this IPL, a 50,000-plus crowd at Eden Gardens gave Pathan a standing ovation when he walked off. The burly middle-order batsman sheepishly raised his bat to return the compliment when his effort called for wild celebrations. Before that, though, there was mayhem.
The Sunrisers Hyderabad had enough warning of Pathan’s ability. In the Sunriser’s previous avatar, the Deccan Chargers, had suffered at his hands. Playing for the Rajasthan Royals, Pathan had wreaked havoc with a 38-ball century in 2009. An extra life was the last thing they needed to gift him.
A 22-ball 72 with five fours and seven sixes kept Kolkata at Eden Gardens for Qualifier 1 to be played on Tuesday. Pathan awed the crowd with some spectacular hits against a bowling attack that had Dale Steyn in its ranks. Interestingly, Pathan picked the world’s best fast bowler for special treatment.
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The odds were still stacked against KKR when Steyn roared in for his final over. They were 116/5 after 12 and needed 45 runs off 20 balls to edge past CSK. They had just lost Shakib Al Hasan, who got out trying to clear the fence.
Steyn’s first ball was short and wide and Pathan slapped it past the bowler to the straight boundary. The next ball was dispatched over deep mid-wicket for a six. Steyn once again offered length and this time, Pathan hit him over long-off for another six. Steyn altered his length and bowled short. Pathan pulled him to the square-leg boundary. The next ball swung late but flew off a thick outside edge for another four. The last ball was full on the pads and Pathan took a couple.
Twenty-six runs from the over and game, set and match Kolkata. Pathan hit another six off Sharma in the next over before he was holed out at deep mid-wicket by Shikhar Dhawan, but by then only formality remained. Surya Yadav completed it with a six off Bhuvneshwar Kumar. He had come in with 106 needed from 47 balls. He walked off a hero, with less than a run a ball needed.
“I wish I could hit like that. Phenomenal hitting,” said SRH’s Darren Sammy.
Kolkata had some brilliant performances in the field as well after Gautam Gambhir sent in the Sunrisers Hyderabad. Morne Morkel dismissed David Warner with a beauty and then provided a terrific display of serious fast bowling to clock 156.1kph to rattle Dhawan.
Manish Pandey effected two brilliant run outs to get rid of Dhawan and Venugopal Rao. Sunil Narine was again miserly. In the end, however, there was only one hero. Pathan towered over the rest as Kolkata took their unbroken winning run to seven matches.