The Kolkata Knight Riders, come rain come shine, cannot be stopped at the moment. The KKR juggernaut motored along in some style, all the way to the IPL 2014 final with a comprehensive victory over the Kings XI Punjab.
Qualifier 1 of the IPL playoffs, a game which was postponed to Wednesday afternoon due to heavy rain, was all about keeping your wits in the wet weather. Kings XI Punjab buckled under the pressure of the rain, which played hide-and-seek with the players, and the mortally feared Duckworth/Lewis method - that par score business and should they stay over, or under or just play for the entire 20 overs - eventually coming back to haunt them rather markedly.
Chasing a makeable score of 164, after KKR ended up on 163 for eight from their rain-interrupted 20 overs, Kings XI just floundered at the big stage in front of a partisan Eden Gardens crowd, managing just 135 for eight to hand the Knight Riders a 28-run victory, their eighth straight.
All is not lost for the Kings XI, of course, with the bonus of finishing in the top two being having another crack at making the final. KXIP now await the winner of the Eliminator between the Chennai Super Kings and the Mumbai Indians, with the Punjab franchise getting a chance at gaining a measure of revenge against KKR if they win their Qualifier 2 on Friday.
The chase was a crazy one really for the first eight overs, with the batting side looking to stay ahead of the Duckworth/Lewis method, while KKR skipper Gautam Gambhir did his best to keep KXIP below, by bringing on his best bowlers early.
KKR's chances of pulling off a victory increased with Virender Sehwag, who was looking to tonk every ball coming his way, smoking one off Umesh Yadav straight to Shakib Al Hasan in the covers in the first ball of the second over.
Manan Vohra (26, 19b, 3x6) and Wriddhiman Saha did well to keep KXIP ahead of the D/L par score after the five overs which constitutes a match, but after that it all started to go a pear-shaped for the side from Punjab. Once Vohra went in the sixth over, with Morne Morkel picking up the crucial wicket, wickets just kept tumbling as KKR tightened the noose with no chance of escape.
With rain coming down and the threat of play being stopped, Kings XI just got a little too antsy, going for too many runs at once and with it losing too many wickets – had they looked to play out the 20 overs, the same problem might not have been there.
However, pressure gets even to the best of them, and Glenn Maxwell (6, 9b, 1x4), who just did not look like his usual attacking self, was trapped in front by Yadav (4-0-13-3), brilliant on the night, before Saha (35, 31b, 2x4, 2x6) and David Miller (8, 12b) were dismissed in the space of an over, leaving KXIP on a precarious 82 for five, needing another 82 from 46 deliveries.
George Bailey (26, 17b, 1x4, 2x6), with Akshar Patel getting run out early, was Kings XI's last hope, but even the skipper could not pull his team back to shore as his side sank without a trace.
The first innings was about two partnerships, two double strikes, a bit of rain and some sixes in the final overs.
Gambhir has won quite a lot of tosses of late and batted second, but after losing the flip of the coin, the skipper came out to the field with the in-form Robin Uthappa. Gambhir did not last too long, caught nicely at mid-off by George Bailey a ball after surviving a close lbw appeal from Mitchell Johnson.
KKR did not let the early wicket of their captain bother them too much, though, with the Karnataka duo of Uthappa, who was selected for the Bangladesh series, and Manish Pandey putting on a wonderful 65-run partnership in 42 balls.
Uthappa, who went past the 40-run mark for the tenth game in a row, was at his ruthless best, without really taking out the slaying shots -- the straight bat plan working to great effect again, even if the right-hander unfurled a couple of delightful pull shots, with one, off Johnson, going for a big six.
Pandey also did his bit at the other end, changing the strike over, while notching a couple of boundaries himself as KKR took control of the first innings. However, KXIP, to their credit, did not panic as the batsmen strolled, knowing it was just about one wicket, with KKR, feeling a little kind, giving them two in the same over.
Akshar Patel (4-1-11-2) has been one of the finds of IPL 2014, forcing his way into the India side for the Bangladesh series, and the left-arm spinner showed his prowess yet again, first dismissing Uthappa (42, 30b, 4x4, 2x6) in the second ball of the ninth over, with the opener chipping one straight to David Miller at long-off.
Three deliveries later, Patel was celebrating again, as Pandey (21, 20b, 3x4) played one onto his stumps off his elbow. Those two wickets brought KXIP right back into the game, with KKR slumping to 67 for three after nine overs.
However, another nice-little partnership would come courtesy Shakib Al Hasan and Yusuf Pathan, fresh from his ridiculous innings against the Sunrisers Hyderabad which took KKR into Qualifier 1.
Shakib (18, 16b, 2x4) and Pathan (20, 18b, 2x4, 1x6) allied for 41 runs from 33 deliveries, to set that platform to go slam-bang in the last few overs. It would have been ideal had one of the two batsmen stayed for the final five-over assault, but both fell off successive deliveries, with Karanveer Singh (4-0-40-3) adding a couple to his kitty.
Shakib, after smoking a nice boundary straight back past the bowler, holed out in the deep, with Pathan, unable to contain himself, going for a six off the very next ball and finding Miller at long-on.
Rain came in the 16th over and delayed the final-over party a little, but once the match started off again after a 20-odd minute delay, KKR found their mojo again as Suryakumar Yadav (20, 14b, 3x4, 1x6), Ryan Ten Doeschate (17, 10b, 2x6) and Piyush Chawla (19 n.o., 9b, 3x4) all played good hands, with KKR scoring 49 runs in the final 24 deliveries, to take them over the 160-mark, a mark which Kings XI never even threatened to breach.