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KOLKATA: Consider wisely before committing to sure things – for there are none in the world of sport. Rajasthan Royals, a shoo-in for the last-four until this past afternoon, saw their semifinals hope suffer a blow on Friday night, as Kolkata Knight Riders overwhelmed them by eight wickets at the Eden Gardens.
It was almost mandatory for Kolkata to win to stay in contention for a play-offs berth, and they did precisely that through their trump card on home turf: slow, deceptive bowling on an accommodating Eden wicket. Yusuf Pathan (49, 35b) in one of his now-rare destructive moods was a treat to watch and alongside a juicy altercation between Manvinder Bisla and Shane Watson, moderated by their captains, provided cheap and fitting entertainment to go with that evening pint.
Although Royals struck crucial blows by taking out skipper Gautam Gambhir (stumped smartly by Dishant Yagnik off Watson) and Bisla (who struck a brisk 29), the burly hard-hitter and Jacques Kallis (33) brought home the win with a 78-run union.
Royals’ loss thickens the plot. Superstars Chennai - and arguably Bangalore - having already made a place in the knock-outs, the battle shall now rage between Royals, Hyderabad, Mumbai Indians and, possibly, the rejuvenated defending champions for the two remaining spots.
On Friday, Sunil Narine (4-0-20-1) and Sachithra Senanayake (4-0-26-2) restricted Rahul Dravid’s outfit to 132/6 after he chose to bat, and Pathan, perhaps in repentance of his extended sorry streak, made it a no-contest with a handy 16 balls to spare.
Dravid’s decision to bat backfired as Rajasthan were unable to build any sort of momentum. Ajinkya Rahane was stumped off Senanayake and James Faulkner, promoted as a pinch-hitter, edged leggie Iqbal Abdullah to point. The visitors were 34/2 at the end of the Powerplay and it took the introduction of Narine to claim their most prized scalp.
Watson, having plodded to a run-a ball 35, was claimed leg-before on the sweep and Senanayake returned to bowl Yagnik. The hero of Royals’ last win, Sanju Samson, compiled a patient 40, but he too failed to cut loose against the tidiness of Narine and medium-pacer Rajat Bhatia.
Samson’s top-edged skier was dropped by Bisla running around from behind the stumps, but the youngest IPL half-centurion was accounted for three runs later, deservedly by Bhatia for his first wicket. The slog-fest never came and the 132 target was rendered even more harmless once Pathan got going.