At the start of the IPL 2014 8 pm game on Tuesday, the Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Sunrisers Hyderabad, after slugging it out with each other, would have become the biggest fans of the Chennai Super Kings, hoping against hope they can turn over the Kolkata Knight Riders at the Eden Gardens.
RCB and SRH needed CSK to win to keep their slim playoff hopes realistically alive, but KKR came out to the field like a team possessed, bowled well to keep the Super Kings to 154 for four, before smashing the target down, courtesy blitzkriegs from Robin Uthappa (67, 39b, 10x4, 1x6) and Shakib Al Hasan (46 n.o., 21b, 6x4, 2x6), in just 18 overs with eight wickets to spare to as good as end all hopes of anyone catching up with them for the fourth and final playoff spot.
The comfortable win -- a fifth straight -- in their first game in Kolkata took KKR to 14 points from 12 matches, level on points with Rajasthan Royals, with RCB and SRH four points, or two wins, behind the Knight Riders, with just two games each to play while also having vastly inferior net run rates. CSK stay second on 16 points from 12 matches, but it is their second straight loss, though, and MS Dhoni and co. will want to stop the slide ASAP, with top place now looking unlikely as KXIP have 18 points already having played a game less.
Uthappa has been in ridiculous form of late, scoring 40 or more in his last six innings, and the right-hander started the chase like a house on fire, scoring 29 in the first three overs off 12 balls.
It could have been a lot different, though, had R Ashwin hung onto the simplest of catches in the first over with Ben Hilfenhaus inducing a regulation outside edge off a nice outswinger, which the CSK spinner grassed spectacularly.
Dhoni showed his disdain for the drop by immediately replacing Ashwin with Raina, who then went on to drop Uthappa again, this time off Mohit Sharma in the third over, even if the catch was a lot more difficult.
Even Uthappa could not contain a chuckle at his luck, and the right-hander cashed-in, and how, systematically dismantling the strong-looking CSK attack – some of the shots played by the right-hander, through the offside and the onside, were pure poetry in motion.
Gautam Gambhir at the other end played second fiddle in the opening partnership of 64 from seven overs, with the left-hander walking back to the pavilion after a hardly-noticed 21 from 20 balls (3x4) after playing-on to Ishwar Pandey.
Uthappa was on 42 from 22 at that point, and the elegant right-hander struck another 25 runs from his next 17 deliveries, with his entertaining, but a little lucky stay, ending in the 12th over after holing out to Faf Du Plessis at long-off off Ravindra Jadeja.
The opener, though, had set the chase up perfectly, with KKR needing just another 57 runs from the remaining 50 balls. With the CSK bowlers just not able to penetrate through, and Shakib on a mission to finish the game off in a flash the result was a foregone conclusion.
The pitch looked completely different in the first innings, with the CSK batsmen struggling to lay the middle of the bat on ball consistently. Dwayne Smith, the key to CSK's big scores, went early and with it that early momentum, so necessary to tonk your way to a sizeable total.
The delivery that got Smith out was worth its weight in gold, and then some, with Pat Cummins (one for 29), in his KKR debut, bowling that dream ball – one that comes in off the angle, and moves away just that tad to clip off stump.
Brendon McCullum, who is set to miss the next couple of games for the birth of his child, looked in a hurry, looking to take the KKR bowling on. The trademark dance down the track to smash the ball, and his usual other pyrotechnics were on view, even if not as effective as usual, for 23 deliveries, before the 24th one led to his demise, with McCullum (28, 24b, 1x4, 2x6) mistiming a big-shot attempt off Sunil Narine (9one for 24) and Suryakumar Yadav taking a smart catch running in from long-on.
The stage was set for CSK's strong batting lineup to come to the fore in the second half of the innings following McCullum's dismissal midway through the 11th over, and Raina and Faf Du Plessis went about doing just that, putting on 62 runs in 36 deliveries together. Raina (65, 52b, 3x4, 5x6) was very much the main man in the alliance, with the left-hander finding his feet to great effect after a circumspect start.
While CSK scored 95 runs in their last ten overs – 48 off the last five – that man-that-was-some-hitting feeling was just not there, which in a way allowed KKR to go into the break probably the happier of the two sides, which became doubly evident the manner in which they went about chasing down the target.