Gautam Gambhir led from the front with an unbeaten half-century as Delhi Daredevils routed Kolkata Knight Riders by nine wickets in the Indian Premier League match in Durban on Tuesday.
Stand-in captain Gambhir smashed 71 from 57 deliveries and was involved in an unbroken 97-run second-wicket stand in 12 overs with Tillakaratne Dilshan, who hit a brisk 42 from 34 deliveries.
Opener David Warner had put Delhi on course for their fifth victory in seven matches with a quick 36 from 23 deliveries after which they never looked back.
Kolkata's performance was pathetic; they dropped three easy catches and missed a run-out chance, as Delhi, replying to 154 for 3, cruised to 157 for 1 in 19 overs.Kolkata innings:
Kolkata, needing to win all their last six games to make it to the semi-finals, started on the wrong foot, again leaving out Mashrafe Mortaza while including Moises Henriques in place of Chris Gayle.
They also opted for a new pair at the top of the order in wicketkeepers Morne Van Wyk and Brendon McCullum.
McCullum looked in good touch from the start and smashed the ninth ball he faced over point for a six. The next ball from Nannes was flicked through wide of mid-on for a boundary. The last one of the over was slammed over square leg for another big six as Kolkata raced to 33 in three over.
Leg spinner Amit Mishra was introduced into the attack early, for the fourth over, and Van Wyk took full advantage by smashing him for two consecutive boundaries in his first over.
Slowly, but surely, McCullum was finding his touch. The confidence was back and fans got a glimpse of the McCullum of old when he stepped down the wicket to Pradeep Sangwan and despatched a short delivery to the deep midwicket fence for his third six of the innings.
However, he fell in Sangwan's next over when he charged down the wicket and hit a short delivery straight to Nehra at the fine leg boundary. The Kolkata captain, though not convincing, had finally found some much-needed form with the bat, smashing 35 from 29 deliveries, inclusive of a boundary and three sixes. (58-1, 7)
The knock, though not very big, should surely bring huge relief to McCullum, who had scored just 50 runs in his previous eight matches.
Sangwan was proving to be a hard bowler to get away. Despite that huge six in his first over, Kolkata were not able to get him away; he conceded just 14 in his first three overs.
Despite McCullum's fireworks at the start and Van Wyk batting well on 25 from 21 deliveries, Delhi had pulled back things quite well to restrict Kolkata to 69 for one after 10 overs.
Van Wyk ruined Sangwan's final over with three consecutive boundaries but the left-arm pacer ended his spell by bagging the wicket of Hodge off the final delivery. Hodge tried to smash a full delivery straight down the ground but holed out to AB de Villiers at long-on for 10 off 19 deliveries. (98-2, 13)
Kolkata continued to amaze with their selection by sending in the inexperienced Moises Henriques ahead of Sourav Ganguly. And they were made to pay for that decision immediately when the former played out a maiden from Mishra in the 14th over of the innings.
Van Wyk brought up his half-century in the 15th over off just 32 deliveries, inclusive of eight boundaries, as Kolkata reached 103 for two with just five overs to go.
Henriques tried to break the shackles after a slow start by smashing Nannes straight down the ground for a straight six. Two more boundaries for each batsman followed and it was turning out to be a horror day for Nannes, having conceded 41 runs in his first three overs.
Van Wyk played out of his skin, smashing 74 from 48 deliveries, inclusive of 11 boundaries, before he was bowled by Nehra in the final over of the innings. He added 49 runs for the third wicket with Henriques in 6.2 overs to lend some respectability to Kolkata's total.
Henriques hit the last ball for a boundary to finish unbeaten on 30 from 24 deliveries as Kolkata ended up with 154 for 3 in their 20 overs.
However, Kolkata's decision to send Henriques ahead of the experienced Ganguly is questionable. Surely, had Ganguly stayed for so long at the wicket, he would have scored a few more runs what with his ability to hit the big sixes and boundaries.
For once, Nannes struggled with the ball, finishing on 49 runs from four overs. Mishra again came up with a splendid showing with the ball, giving away just 18 runs from four overs that included a maiden.
But the best bowling performance for Delhi came from Sangwan, who took two for 29 in four overs, while Nehra took one for 23.
Gambhir, looking to regain form, started off positively with two boundaries in the first two overs.
David Warner made his presence felt, hitting two consecutive boundaries off Ishant Sharma. That was followed by a third one from Gambhir which took Delhi to 28 after three overs.
Warner's hunger for quick runs grew and he came down the wicket and dismissed Ashok Dinda for a huge six over square leg in the fourth over.
There seems to be something magical about Henriques that makes Kolkata believe he is a better player than Mashrafe Mortaza. After promoting him in the batting order, he was called to bowl as early as the fifth over against two well set batsmen and the gamble backfired.
It was the opportunity Warner was waiting for and he smashed two boundaries in the over to race to 30 from 15 deliveries, Delhi reaching 49 after five overs.
Ajit Agarkar provided the first breakthrough for Kolkata in the seventh over. He was unlucky when McCullum dropped Gambhir (22) at cover but struck two balls later with the wicket of the rampaging Warner. The Australian tried to hit a short delivery through the leg-side but could only lob a high catch to Henriques at short midwicket.
Warner smashed a quick 35 from 21 deliveries, inclusive of five boundaries and a six, adding 60 runs in seven overs for the opening wicket with Gambhir, to give Delhi a flying start.
The in-form Tillakaratne Dilshan did not take time to get going and smashed Agarkar for two consecutive boundaries in the ninth over.
However, at the other end, Murali Kartik kept things tight, conceding just five runs in his first two overs. Delhi reached 76 for one at the halfway mark, needing another 79 runs from the last 10 overs.
McCullum's evening went from bad to worse in the field. The Kolkata captain missed an easy run-out chance against Gambhir (32) in the 13th over when the left-hander had set off for a run and was sent back.
Gambhir, on 45, then got another life when he was caught behind off Henriques, but to everyone's surprise the umpire turned down the appeal. It looked as if Gambhir took a small step back towards the dressing room before noticing the umpire nodding his head in disapproval.
The Delhi left-hander brought up his half-century when he smashed his country and state mate Ishant straight down the ground for a boundary. It took him just 44 deliveries to reach his first half-century in the second season of IPL, and included four boundaries.
Kolkata's nightmarish display in the field continued as they messed up another chance. Dilshan (24) played a paddle sweep off Ishant in the 16th over and the ball lobbed high towards fine leg. But substitute fielder Arindam Ghosh, running to his right, floored an easy catch to the frustration of the bowler and his entire team.
Delhi reached 123 for one after 16 overs, needing another 32 from the last four overs. But Dilshan kept it within range as he hit two consecutive boundaries off Agarkar to bring down the equation to 21 needed from the last 18 deliveries.
The rub of the green continued to go Delhi's way as Gambhir edged another one over the wicketkeeper for his sixth boundary of the innings to move to 61.
Dilshan made sure there were no dramas in the final overs when he smashed Ishant for a six to leave Delhi to get five from 11 deliveries.
Kolkata's fielding standards was almost comical by the end. Henriques dropped the third easy catch of the innings when he failed to hold on to a pull shot from Gambhir (67).
Gambhir promptly ended it the next delivery when he slammed Ishant for a boundary over mid-off to lead Delhi to a convincing nine-wicket victory with an over to spare.
Gambhir played one of the luckiest innings of his life to finish unbeaten on 71 from 57 deliveries, inclusive of seven boundaries. Dilshan gave him good support with 42 not out from 34 deliveries (5 boundaries, 1 six) as the two batsmen were involved in an unbroken stand of 97 from 12 overs.
Delhi won their fifth match of the tournament to take top spot with 10 points, while Kolkata remain rooted at the bottom with three points from nine matches.