IPL MATCH CENTRE
Andre Russell smashed the joint fastest fifty of the season as Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) pulled off a heart-stopping one-wicket win over Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) to jump to the top of the IPL table in Kolkata on Saturday.
Fortunes fluctuated like a pendulum in the contest which went to the wire as Piyush Chawla (18) struck a vital six off Anureet Singh to take the defending champions closer to the target of 184 and they eventually prevailed with one ball left.
KKR were gasping at 83 for 4 at one stage and the required run-rate had shot past 12 with 98 runs required from the last eight overs. From there, Russell and Yusuf Pathan (29) put on 53 runs from 25 balls for the fifth wicket to turn the match around.
Russell slammed five fours and four sixes in his 21-ball 51 as he equalled Harbhajan Singh's fastest fifty (from 19 balls) this season. Pathan provided good support to the Jamaican, who unleashed his fury in front of a packed home support to take them near the target.
There was never a clear winner as wickets kept falling but KKR kept nearing the target and eventually eight runs were required from the last over. KKR lost two wickets in three balls including that of Chawla, leaving Sunil Narine at the crease to score one run from two balls.
The left-hander held his nerve and played a flick shot, did not connect and took the winning run from the leg-bye to seal a thrilling win for his side.
KKR thus ended their home-leg, winning three matches on the trot and jumped to the top spot of the table with 15 points from 12 matches, while KXIP remained at the bottom (four from 11), suffering seventh straight loss.
Earlier, Gautam Gambhir gave KKR a brisk start in the power play with 57/1 in the first six overs but the introduction of spin put the brakes on the scoring.
Left-arm spinner Axar Patel gave away just two runs from his first over, while offie Gurkeerat was tidier with just one run to tighten the proceedings.
As a result, Manish Pandey (22) tried to break free in the next over but managed to mistimed Glenn Maxwell and was caught by Patel. Gurkeerat gave the big breakthrough in Gambhir in the next over to derail KKR's run chase.
Earlier, KKR were pathetic with their fielding as they dropped as many as five catches, letting Punjab post a challenging 183 for 5.
KKR's trump-card spinner Narine was back to his best, claiming 4/19 after a month-long controversy surrounding his bowling action.
The mystery spinner looked to have his guile back as the batsmen looked tentative and gave regular breakthroughs for his side.
Maxwell led the show with a 22-ball 43 (4x4s, 3x6s) as all the top five batsmen - Murali Vijay (28), Manan Vohra (39), Wriddhiman Saha (33) and David Miller (27) - contributed handsomely to the team's cause.
The Aussie found his reverse sweep scoops to perfection as he batted with disdain against spinners Chawla and Brad Hogg as no one other than Narine looked impressive.
KXIP seized the momentum from KKR early on when the home team skipper Gambhir gave Murali Vijay the first of his three reprieves on 1. Gambhir, at extra cover, reacted slowly as the ball went through his right hand in the very first over in which Umesh Yadav conceded just two runs.
Vijay went for the kill in the second over of the Indian speedster as he slammed three fours and one six for 18 runs to derail KKR early on.
Narine was brought on in the fourth over and this time Hogg let one slip at square leg with Vijay on 21, while Yadav gave the Punjab opener a third reprieve on 24.
Severely let down by his butter-fingered fielders, Narine finally got the breakthrough when he caught Vijay off his own bowling to complete a tidy second spell (2-0-8-1).
Vohra was dropped twice - on 19 by wicketkeeper Robin Uthappa and on 29 by Yusuf Pathan - to make it five on the day. Nothing going their way on the field, KKR had to rely heavily on Narine as he was brought back in the 11th over and the wily spinner returned the faith by claiming Vohra in an identical caught-and-bowled dismissal.
Narine's effort was not enough as the KXIP batsmen attacked the other bowlers and, at one point when Maxwell and Saha were batting during their 65-run third wicket partnership, it seemed KXIP would breach the 200-mark.
Narine returned again to complete his quota in the 17th over and once again arrested the run-rate, this time with a twin blow in the form of Maxwell and Saha's wickets. However, KXIP had by then posted a challenging target.