Punjab kings flickering playoff hopes brightened and they dimmed Kolkata Knight Riders’ own chances after winning their Indian Premier League match by five wickets in the last over after a captain’s knock from KL Rahul. A day after Chris Gayle left them to be fresh for West Indies at the Twenty20 World Cup, Punjab joined Kolkata and Mumbai on 10 points on Friday as the three teams battle for the fourth and final qualifying spot.
After winning the toss, Rahul elected to bowl and his side then rallied to restrict Kolkata to 7-165, with the Knight Riders scoring only 44 of the last five overs. Without a specialist fifth bowler, Kolkata then couldn’t stop Punjab from reaching their target on 5-168 with three balls remaining as Rahul took the player of the match honors with his anchoring 67 off 55 balls, featuring four fours and two sixes. Kolkata’s fielding didn’t help either, with captain Eoin Morgan dropping Mayank Agarwal off the second ball of the chase. KL Rahul was always going to be Punjab Kings’ go-to man in their tricky chase of a 166-run target against Kolkata Knight Riders.
On a slow Dubai wicket, the match hung in the balance till the last over but Punjab scraped through by five wickets with three balls remaining. The result also means that Delhi Capitals have qualified for the play-offs. Agarwal went on to 40 while Rahul Tripathi dropped Nicholas Pooran on one before the West Indian went on to make a dozen. Rahul was eventually out in the last over but he had done enough, with Shahrukh Khan hitting a match-winning six off the very next delivery, the ball popping out of Tripathi’s despairing hands at deep midwicket and dropping over the boundary. Earlier, Venkatesh Iyer had led Kolkata’s batting with 69 off 49 balls, including nine boundaries.
He was well supported by Tripathi, with 34 off 26. Yet the momentum was lost as England’s World Cup-winning skipper Morgan failed again, out lbw for two when he wafted at Mohammed Shami. Rahul had also survived a controversial catch by Tripathi in the 19th over off Shivam Mavi. After several close replays, the third umpire ruled that Tripathi hadn’t picked it up cleanly. Punjab needed 10 off 11 balls at that stage. Commentators Sunil Gavaskar and Kevin Pietersen, however, felt the catch was fair. Rahul departed in the next over for 67 off 55 balls. Rahul and Mayank Agarwal’s 70-run opening partnership set them up perfectly for the chase.
Both technically sound batsmen, relied heavily on cricketing strokes though Mayank was lucky to have survived early in his innings. Nitish Rana provided late fireworks with 31 off 18 but after the batting was bolstered, 165 looked sub-par. The fifth bowler duties were shared by Iyer and Rana and Punjab exploited their shared 3.3 overs by taking 37 runs. The Knight Riders’ ploy to strengthen their batting backfired in this match. They had gone in without Lockie Ferguson, picking Tim Seifert instead. This meant they were a bowler short and had to depend on Venkatesh Iyer and Nitish Rana to complete the fifth bowler’s quota. Morgan rotated the bowlers intelligently.
Despite Friday’s loss, the Knight Riders can still make the playoffs if they win their last two games — against Sunrisers Hyderabad and Rajasthan Royals. In that case, they will qualify with 14 points without the net run rate coming into play. Some of the other results though have to go in their favor. At least one between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians would have to finish below 16 points in such a scenario.
Punjab staged a late comeback with Mohammed Shami and Arshdeep Singh giving away only 14 runs in the last two overs. While Shami’s experience came in handy, Arshdeep’s (3/32) control and discipline have been exemplary. Arshdeep struck with his second ball removing Shubman Gill but Iyer (67 off 49 balls, 9×4, 1×6) and Rahul Tripathi (34 off 26 balls) made sure the momentum wasn’t lost. Iyer’s consistency has been impressive.