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PUNE: His bizarre antics can finally be appended to a reason. Shahrukh Khan bounded about like a rabbit on speed, hugging his teammates on the field of play – Yes! He was allowed to enter the arena on this occasion – as his franchise Kolkata Knight Riders strode into their first IPL final, after outplaying Delhi Daredevils by 18 runs in the ‘Qualifier 1’ on Tuesday night.
Spin-heavy Kolkata batted first, pulled themselves up to 162-4, thanks to Yusuf Pathan’s and Laxmi Shukla's late onslaught, and then stalled Delhi on 144-8 with their battery of bowlers – principally the confounding mystery spinner Sunil Narine and veteran seamer Jacques Kallis, both of whom had match figures of 4-0-24-2.
Delhi have another chance of making the final when they play the winner of the Mumbai Indians-Chennai Super Kings eliminator.
In pursuit of a tricky target, Delhi suffered a massive setback when David Warner was out to a horrible caught-behind decision off Shakib Al Hasan in the second over of the chase. Virender Sehwag, back after sitting out with an illness, followed soon after, slashing a wide Lakshmipathy Balaji delivery to the ‘keeper.
With two of their most dangerous batsmen out, Delhi faced a mammoth task ahead, but were brought back in contention with a 59-run partnership between Mahela Jayawardene (40) and Naman Ojha (29). The alliance ended when Ojha cut Rajat Bhatia straight to point, and the death knell was sounded when Jayawardene charged Iqbal Abdullah only to be stumped – after a minor fumble – by Brendon McCullum.
Delhi needed 54 runs in five overs at that stage and a cascade of wickets resulted as the batsmen went after the spinners. Really, the chase was never on after Ross Taylor was demoted to below Pawan Negi in the batting order.
Earlier, KKR, safe in the knowledge that they contained three spinners in their eleven, batted first on a pitch with more than moderate turn and grip. Delhi’s attack comprised three quicks and Gambhir took an immediate liking to them, provided his team a blistering start with a 16-ball 32.
Gambhir began with a pulled maximum off Umesh Yadav and tore into Varun Aaron for six and four in the last over of the Powerplay. Disaster struck in the same over when the Kolkata captain was run out. He thumped Varun to mid-off, and was late returning to the crease after having backed up too far. A direct hit from Venugopal Rao found Gambhir short of his ground, and the wicket pegged KKR back.
The next ten overs yielded just 58 runs as Brendon McCullum (31) and Jacques Kallis (32) struggled to accelerate. Left-arm spinner Negi slipped in his overs for precious little and picked up the New Zealander with precocious turn, as he sliced one high into the night sky and was taken smartly by Warner.
In the next over, Shakib edged Irfan Pathan to the ‘keeper and soon after Kallis walked off when he pulled Umesh down Taylor’s throat. The three quick wickets stalled KKR and they would have been in freefall were it not for Yusuf and Laxmi Shukla.
Yusuf shrugged off his indifferent season to partner Shukla for 56 runs in just four overs. The burly right-hander creamed Morkel for a straight six and powered boundaries off Umesh. Shukla too chipped in, lofting Morkel for four and completing a savage pull for maximum gain against the same bowler.
The last over, bowled by Varun Aaron, was a run fest. Warner dropped Yusuf at long-on and conceded a six instead as the ball sailed over the ropes. Yusuf smacked vicious cover drives off the last two deliveries, both to the fence, taking the cost of the last over to 21. Kolkata ended with 162 – a massive total considering the nature of the wicket.