Bowlers hold their nerves to help KKR bag clinical win
Kolkata Knight Riders put in a fantastic all-round performance to beat Rajasthan Royals by 25 runs in the Eliminator, thereby setting up a date with Sunrisers Hyderabad in the second Qualifier of the VIVO Indian Premier League.
KKR recovered from a wobbly start to post 169 for 7, and restricted RR to 144 for 4 despite notable contributions from Ajinkya Rahane and Sanju Samson in their pursuit.
The capacity crowd at Eden Gardens was treated to a brilliant show from the city-based franchise, which saw RR being eliminated from the tournament.
Asked to bat first, KKR didn't get off to the kind of start they have been used to this season, with Sunil Narine departing off the second ball after hitting K Gowtham for a boundary of the first ball of the innings. Narine, stepping down the track looking for a big shot, was stumped by Heinrich Klaasen.
Robin Uthappa and Nitish Rana both managed to score only three runs each before following suit, putting KKR in a tricky position, with the scoreboard reading 24 for 3 in 3.4 overs.
Chris Lynn and Dinesh Karthik held fort for a bit, before Shreyas Gopal struck with the wicket of Lynn. The Australian had scored 18 off 22 balls before returning a simple catch to Gopal off his own bowling.
With the situation getting out of control, Karthik and Shubman Gill took it upon themselves to stabilise the innings. The duo dragged KKR's total from 51 for 4 to 106 for 4 before Shubman edged Joffrey Archer to Klaasen behind the stumps in the 15th over.
Karthik was then joined by Andre Russell, and the experienced campaigners tackled the pressure well to keep the scoreboard ticking.
Karthik's heroic knock of 52 off 38 balls (4x4, 2x6) came to an end only in the 18th over, but Russell's assault at the other end meant KKR were headed for a decent total under the given conditions.
Russell smacked five sixes and three boundaries during his stay in the middle, chipping in with an unbeaten 49 off 25 balls.
In response, RR started cautiously, with Ajinkya Rahane and Rahul Tripathi tapping the ball around to make them reach 47 for no loss in five overs before the latter returned a catch to Piyush Chawla off his own boeling. Chawla grabbed on to a one-handed catch to end Tripathi's knock on 20 off 13 balls.
Rahane and Samson, however, didn't allow the loss of wicket to bog them down, keeping the runs coming with a steady partnership. They carried RR to 109 for 2 by the 14th over, before the strategic timeout was taken.
Immediately after, Kuldeep removed Rahane, caught off his own bowling for 46 off 41 balls (4x4, 1x6). Kuldeep finished the over giving away just two runs to make the equation read 59 needed off 30 balls.
Samson continued to fight, getting to his fifty in 37 balls. He would have liked to stay on till the end, but Chawla struck immediately after, removing him with a flighted delivery that he hit straight in the air for Javon Searles to grab on to at long on.
The wicket at this point tilted the advantage towards KKR, and Prasidh Krishna came on to bowl a brilliant over after that, giving away only three runs and sending Stuart Binny back for nought.
With two overs remaining, RR needed 40 runs to get over the line. Russell's next over yielded six runs, leaving RR in a rut to chase 34 off the last over.
Prasidh finished off with a neat final over to make sure KKR remained on top, helping the side grab a memorable victory.
KKR and SRH will now lock horns in the second Qualifier at the same venue on Friday.