Knight Riders spoil Ganguly's home coming at Eden

Gambhir's 36-ball 56 laid the foundation for Knight Riders' score of 150 for 5 and this proved to be seven runs too many for Pune Warriors.

Marchant de Lange took two early wickets in Pune Warriors' run chase.

Scorecard| Match galleryMini Pune descends at Eden | Ganguly comes home




The Gautam Gambhir-led Kolkata Knight Riders continued on their winning ways as they notched up their fifth consecutive win in IPL-5 today evening at the Eden Gardens as they defeated Sourav Ganguly's Pune Warriors India by seven runs in a topsy-turvy match. Gambhir led from the front with both ball and in the field in the most anticipated match of IPL-5 even as the Kolkata crowd cheered for Ganguly, but most of them were rooting for the home team.

Ganguly was the icon player of Knight Riders for the first three seasons, but had a turbulent time with the Shah Rukh Khan-owned franchise; and those problems have been well-documented. In a decision then that didn't go down well with Kolkatans at all, the Knight Riders team management decided against buying Ganguly at the 2011 auction; for that matter neither did any of the either IPL franchises. Ganguly got his IPL lifeline when he was signed up by Pune Warriors in May 2011 as a replacement for the injured Ashish  Nehra for the fourth edition of the league. It's for those reasons that today evening's clash was touted as a grudge match for Ganguly and his fans; and the weather gods sensing the importance of the occasion decided to co-operate as the expected spells of rain stayed away from Kolkata.

Ganguly and his Knight Riders' counterpart Gautam Gambhir, however, both downplayed the hype on the eve of the match. While Gambhir stated the Knight Riders belong to Kolkata; Ganguly also took the safe line saying “I’ll just say that it’s always great to play at the Eden, which is my ground...”. It is his ground, but that didn't keep Ganguly from feeling the nerves when he walked out for the toss, and the former India captain admitted as such.

Gambhir's 36-ball 56 laid the foundation for Knight Riders' score of 150 for 5, which at one stage looked to exceed the 180-run mark; but a good bowling effort led by Man of the Match Sunil Narine (4-1-13-1) and Marchant de Lange ensured the hosts would get over the line in a match that tested the loyalty of the Eden Gardens crowd to the hilt.

Pune Warriors had a horrendous start to the run chase as they were reduced to 55 for 5 in the ninth over; but in a surprising decision, Ganguly pushed himself down to No. 7 in the order as he kept the crowd waiting for him to stride out on his home ground. The early collapse put paid to an impressive fightback by the Warriors in the second half of Knight Riders' innings.

De Lange (3-34), playing only his second match of IPL-5, got one through Michael Clarke's defence with a beauty, and then had Robin Uthappa (17) caught by Laxmi Ratan Shukla at covers as Warriors were 28 for 2. Iqbal Abdulla (1-26) bowled his four overs on the trot and accounted for the talented Manish Pandey before Jacques Kallis got rid of Mithun Manhas and Narine trapped Steven Smith LBW in his first over, though the batsman was unlucky as he had got an inside edge to it.

Smith's dismissal, however, was the cue for the moment the 67,000-odd people at Eden Gardens were waiting for - Ganguly coming out to bat. And, the 'Prince of Kolkata' didn't let his fans down as he played some vintage shots in his 35-ball 36, but even he couldn't read Narine's off-spinners. Ganguly added 73 runs for the sixth wicket with Angelo Mathews (35 from 27 balls), and looked to have given his team an outside chance of victory, but Rajat Bhatia ensured there wouldn't be any last-minute heroics from the Warriors' captain when he had him caught by Abdulla at mid-wicket. Ganguly scored 36 from 35 balls, but it wasn't enough for Pune Warriors.

Mathews, who was out in the last over, gave the Knight Riders team some flutters when he hit three consecutive sixes in the 15th over bowled by Yusuf Pathan to keep the Warriors in touch with the required rate. But, this was only proved to be a false dawn for the Warriors, as the impressive Knight Riders' bowling attack combined yet again to get their team over the line.

Earlier, Gambhir was the more aggressive of the Knight Riders' opening pair from the outset and had already hit three boundaries and two sixes as he scored 35 off 18 balls with Knight Riders scoring 68 in their Powerplay overs. Brendon McCullum was happy to play the supporting role, but the Knight Riders' opening batsmen were helped by some poor bowling by the Pune Warriors, especially from Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Wayne Parnell and Ashok Dinda; the last of who was taken to the cleaners by Gambhir and McCullum in the sixth over of the match in which he conceded 19 runs. Knight Riders were also aided and abetted by some sloppy fielding from the Warriors as well as a couple of dropped catches; none more easier than the sitter Dinda dropped off MClarke's bowling to give McCullum a life when the New Zealand wicket keeper-batsman was on 28. McCullum got on with his job after Dinda's howler as he and Gambhir, who brought up his half-century from 30 balls, kept the scoreboard ticking over by rotating the strike and hitting the boundaries, as Knight Riders scored 98 in the first 10 overs and looked on course to set Warriors a target in excess of 180.

The Warriors' bowlers came back exceedingly well in the second half of the KKR innings as they conceded only 52 runs and took five wickets in the last 10 overs; and such was the accuracy of the bowling that only one four and one six were hit in this period. The fightback started when Murali Kartik had Gambhir (56 from 36 balls) caught by Mithun Manhas at long-off to end the 113-run stand; which incidentally is the highest opening partnership for Knight Riders in IPL history. Mathews then trapped McCullum (42 from 43 balls) LBW, though he wasn't happy with the decision as the opener felt he had got an inside edge.

The moment of IPL-5 though came in the fourth ball of the 15th over by Kartik when Steven Smith, who sprinted to his right from long-on dived full length on the boundary rope, and in fact caught the ball in mid air, but as he was aware the momentum would carry him over the ropes, he flung the ball back into play and save four runs for his team in a Superman effort; with Pathan being the batsman who was denied those runs. "I was lucky enough to pull it back on the first occasion. I practice that stuff all the time and I was pretty disappointed when I dropped it. I have set some high standards for myself on the field," Smith said during the innings break.

Mathews then took his second wicket when he deceived Jacques Kallis with a slower ball and clean bowled him before Kumar struck twice in the 19th over. He first ended Yusuf Pathan's struggle in the middle when he had him well caught by Smith at long-on, and then had Shukla caught by Ganguly at mid-off, and as soon as he took the cath, the Eden crowd rose up as one. Mathews (2-17), Kumar (2-26) and Murali Kartik (1-22) were the pick of the Warriors' bowlers; but their efforts proved to be in vain in the final outcome.

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