Cuttack: 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, here 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.
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 floodgates opened in the third over bowled by Sandeep Sharma in which Uthappa got three boundaries. A flick, followed by two lovely drives.
The next over from Mitchell Johnson was even better as he started with a pulled six. The shot was mistimed but had enough meat to carry it over the ropes. It was followed by three punchy boundaries as 19 came of that particular over.
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.
Sehwag has been consistently getting starts and today he got a much deserved half-century. His innings had 11 fours and a six off Jacques Kallis.
It couldn't have been a better start for the Kings XI as the 'Nawab of Najafgarh' started by blasting Kallis for four boundaries in the first over of the match.
A cover drive off the first ball set the tone and it was followed by a clip towards square leg and couple of shots behind the square.
Mandeep Singh (0) tried to slash one off Morkel and gave a simple catch to Robin Uthappa behind stumps.
Wriddhiman Saha (15) joined Sehwag who went about on his boundary spree. He was however dropped on 23 when he pushed hard at a Morkel delivery and the glovesman couldn't pouch on to the delivery.
Saha hit a couple of boundaries off Yadav before Morkel bowled him with an incutter but there was no stopping Sehwag.
There were some streaky edges in between but he did hit some audacious strokes. A straight six off Kallis reminded Sehwag of the old as he completed his 50 off 35 balls.
Glenn Maxwell (14) didn't fire today as he holed out at deep square leg, trying to slog sweep Chawla.
Sehwag was finally out when he tried to hoist a Chawla googly which stayed low and hit the off-stump.
Once Sehwag was gone, it sparked a sudden collapse as the dangerous David Miller (13) saw his middle stump uprooted by Yadav. From 87 for two, it suddenly became 120 for five.
It got worse when Rishi Dhawan tried to sweep across the line and was bowled in the process.