In the amphitheatre made for drama that is called the Eden Gardens, a larger-than-life Shoaib Akhtar briefly outshone India’s most popular actor, Shah Rukh Khan, as Kolkata triumphed over Delhi and moved to 10 points, two clear of the opposition they vanquished, in the search for a semifinal berth. In an emotion-charged defence of a small total, Kolkata prevailed with 23 runs to spare.
Fighting fire with fire
Delhi’s strength all through the tournament has been the job their fast bowlers did at the top. On this evening, they got a taste of their own medicine. Shoaib sent down a 149kmph rocket to have Delhi captain Virender Sehwag caught behind for a first-ball duck with only 2 on board. Gautam Gambhir then slashed to point and the Kolkata faithful were roaring.
But even they, the eternally optimistic, would not have imagined a Shoaib first spell of 3-0-11-4. AB de Villiers played a pull to a bouncer that got big on him, bobbing a catch up to the on side and Manoj Tiwary, playing at his original home ground, walked into a skidder that trapped him in front of the stumps to leave Delhi reeling at 28 for 4.
When Ashoke Dinda winkled out the wicket of Shikhar Dhawan, bowled trying to heave the ball across the line, Kolkata erupted yet again with half the Delhi batting gone and 90 still needed.
Sense and sensibility
In the face of a small target all that was called for from Delhi's batsmen was for two to hang in there and stitch together a partnership. Amit Mishra and Farveez Maharoof managed 34 for the seventh wicket, before an acrobatic bit of fielding in his follow through from Dinda and lax running from Maharoof broke the partnership.
Mishra, who top scored for Delhi with 31 tried to paddle one around the corner and found the fielder. When the last man attempted the same cute shot and was bowled, Delhi were shot out for 110. With only two of their batsmen crossing 10, Delhi have lost a match they had sewn up in the first half. It was a capitulation that could well cost them a semifinal spot.
If Shoaib had provided a high moment, V Yomahesh provided the low one for the crowd when Kolkata batted. Yomahesh bowled without control, providing a free-hit that Sourav Ganguly thumped for six over long-off. He followed this with wides on both sides of the stumps. When he landed one on target, and Ganguly's swivelling pull connected with air, the ball shattered the stumps and it was as though a switch was thrown. The Kolkata crowd, which had roared deafeningly for Ganguly’s six-minute innings, went dead silent.
Salman opens up
Salman Butt, quiet through the early overs, then changed gears. Opening the face of the bat wristily, he drove on the up but managed to find the gaps and keep the ball down with control. He also played the pick-up shot through the on-side well, and looked set for a big score when he fell on 48, carving Yomahesh to McGrath at third-man.
The law of averages
David Hussey, due for a failure, managed one clean strike over midwicket off Maharoof and then bludgeoned a (rare) McGrath short ball over square-leg to score the most sixes of the tournament (17). But Hussey will count a run-a-ball 31 as a blip. He tried to make room and lift the ball over long-on, but holed out to Tiwary. With the big guns failing to fire Kolkata mustered only 133 for 6, and it would prove enough.
Kolkata- Salman Butt, Aakash Chopra, Sourav Ganguly(c), David Hussey, Laxmi Shukla, Tatenda Taibu, W Saha(wk), Iqbal Abdulla, Ishant Sharma, Abhishek Dinda, Shoaib Akhtar
Delhi- Virender Sehwag(c), Gautam Gambhir, Shikhar Dhawan, AB de Villiers(wk), Tilakratne Dilshan, Manoj Tiwary, Farveez Maharoof, Yo Mahesh, Glenn McGrath, Pradeep Sangwan, Amith Mishra