Skipper Gautam Gambhir again led by example with a match-winning half-century as Kolkata Knight Riders remained in contention for play-off berth with a comprehensive nine-wicket win over table toppers Kings XI Punjab in an IPL encounter, in Cuttack on Sunday.
Chasing a modest target of 150 on a featherbed, Gambhir anchored the chase to perfection with a well-crafted unbeaten 65 after Robin Uthappa provided the momentum with a 28-ball-46. Such was their domination that the match ended with two overs to spare.
The credit should also be given to leg-spinner Piyush Chawla (3/19) for his brilliant bowling in the middle overs after Virender Sehwag had set the tone for Punjab with a 50-ball-72.
KKR now have eight points and remain in the mix while KXIP got a timely wake-up call ahead of their bigger battles in the knock-out stages of the competition.
It's been a roller coaster ride for Gambhir who started the tournament with a hat-trick of ducks and now has completed a hat-trick of half-centuries. He now has 23 half-centuries across seven IPL editions --- maximum by any player till date.
He changed his approach letting Uthappa dominate in the beginning and played himself in before going for the attack.
Gambhir faced 45 balls hitting seven fours and more importantly finished off the match staying at the crease right till the end. He added 82 runs for the unbroken second wicket with Manish Pandey (36 not out).
Uthappa continued in blazing form as he hit a flurry of boundaries in the Powerplay overs with skipper Gambhir holding one end up.
The Powerplay yielded 55 runs and by then KKR had won half the battle.
Earlier, Virender Sehwag showed glimpses of his usual attacking self during his knock of 72 but Kings XI Punjab had a rare batting collapse as they managed a below-par 149 for eight after being put into bat.
KKR captain Gautam Gambhir's decision to field was vindicated by his bowlers. While Sehwag's 50-ball-72 was the highlight of the Kings innings, the failure of the middle-order, once Maxwell was dismissed, became apparent.
Gambhir's decision to include Morne Morkel (2/20) and Piyush Chawla (3/19) in the playing XI was justified as they picked five wickets for 49 runs in eight overs between them.
Image: Gautam Gambhir captain of the Kolkata Knight Riders with Manish Pandey