Robin Uthappa and Sunil Narine played lead roles as Kolkata Knight Riders booked a berth in the play-offs of the Indian Premier League after beating Royal Challengers Bangalore by 30 runs at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Thursday.
Continuing his dream run, Uthappa played the sheet anchor role while scoring an unbeaten 83 from 51 balls (10x4, 1x6). He was involved in a 121-run partnership off 70 balls with Shakib Al Hasan (60 from 38 balls; 5x3, 3x6) as Kolkata posted a towering 195 for 4.
Uthappa's fifth half-century this season swelled his run aggregate to 572 runs and earned him the Orange Cap from Glen Maxwell (533 runs), who was on top of the run-scorers’ list since the seventh season commenced in Abu Dhabi on April 16.
Defending the massive total, Bangalore failed to get going, as off-spinner Narine executed the role of wrecker-in-chief to grab 4 for 20 and hand Kolkata their sixth successive win, a milestone they only posted in their triumphant 2012 campaign.
After Umesh Yadav provided the breakthrough in the form of Chris Gayle (6), who was out to a dubious lbw decision, Yogesh Takawale and Virat Kohli kept Bangalore in the hunt in their must-win match with an 85-run partnership before Narine struck twice in his third over, scalping both the dangermen.
He returned the same way in his fourth over, this time claiming the scalps of Yuvraj Singh (22) and AB de Villiers (13) to turn the match around.
In fact, Narine did not do badly in following Uthappa, though in the leading wicket-takers’ list he remains one wicket away from Purple Cap holder Bhuvneshwar Kumar's (Sunrisers Hyderabad) tally of 20.
Earlier, Kolkata were reduced to 56 for 3 in the seventh over at the sun bathed Eden Gardens, after Kohli put the home team in. However, Uthappa defied the heat to take the attack to the opposition.
Shakib Al Hasan played the perfect ally and was more aggressive at the other end. The Bangladeshi all-rounder spanked a 38-ball 60 as the duo put together 121 runs from 70 balls for the fourth wicket to stage a remarkable recovery against a frail RCB bowling attack.
He was more brutal of the two while scoring his 60 (5x4, 3x6) off 38 balls, his second fifty of the season. He smashed rookie leg spinner Yuzvendra Chahal for three sixes and a boundary as Kolkata stole 24 runs in an over.
Interestingly, Uthappa has not scored less than 40 runs after being promoted at the top of the order when Kolkata’s India leg began at Ranchi. His tally in the eight matches is now 475.
Uthappa and Shakib exposed Bangalore’s bowling frailties. Local man Ashok Dinda was wayward, while the spin attack of Muttiah Muralitharan, Chahal and Yuvraj Singh could not make any inroads.
Chahal was the most expensive bowler, leaking 50 runs from his quota, while Yuvraj conceded 21 from his two overs.
Kolkata had a poor start as skipper Gautam Gambhir (4) was dismissed off the fifth delivery of the day, the southpaw edging one behind to wicketkeeper Yogesh Takawale in their must-win match.
At the other end, local lad Dinda, who replaced Varun Aaron, provided the second breakthrough, dismissing Manish Pandey (13) cheaply.
Promoted at number four, Yusuf Pathan made his intentions clear by hitting Abu Nechim for a first-ball four. In the next over he tried to unsettle veteran spin wizard Muralitharan with a six over backward square leg.
Yusuf struck a second six, this time off Yuvraj over the straight boundary, but his innings was cut short by a freak run-out, as his bat was inside the crease, but in the air.
Thankfully for Kolkata, Uthappa was steady at the other end. He went on to complete his second half-century in a row in 34 balls, while Shakib joined the party and kept the home side in the hunt for a sixth consecutive victory.
Image: Robin Uthappa