Saturday, May 17, 2008

Punjab edge a rain-reduced game

Mahela Jayawardene sealed the deal with a last-ball six for Kings XI Punjab...

Not even 20 overs were bowled but there was no shortage of excitement and drama as Kings XI Punjab inched closer to a semi-final spot with a win that was sealed - in a somewhat chaotic finish to a rain-shortened game - with a six off the final ball. Delhi, who made the early running in the tournament, now have ten points from 11 games and face a fight to make the last four.

Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir delighted the home crowd at the Feroz Shah Kotla with some fireworks before the first rain interruption but it was the unbroken 63-run stand, off just 27 balls, between Mahela Jayawardene and Luke Pomersbach that clinched the match for Punjab under the Duckworth-Lewis rules as another spell of rain brought about a premature finish.

The two had added 51 in just three overs to turn a precarious position into one of strength, before Sehwag handed allrounder Rajat Bhatia the eighth over. Bhatia, mixing up the pace, drastically brought down the scoring in his first five deliveries. With the rain beginning to come down, Punjab, after 7.5, were at 88 for 3 and, had another dot ball followed, the scores would have been tied under the D/L method. Jayawardene, though, seized the situation, and a shorter ball was put over deep midwicket for six. With the showers intensifying, the umpires called for the covers, and after a bit of confusion, the match was called off, with Punjab picking up their seventh win in eight games.

Sehwag would repent the over he bowled in the chase, in which he conceded 22, but perhaps the result would have been different had rain not interrupted his innings. He had decided to bat after a light drizzle delayed the start, and along with Gambhir powered Delhi to a blistering start, scoring 68 off the Powerplay overs, though they were lucky not to fall early. Yuvraj Singh spilled a sitter as Sehwag got a top edge off Sreesanth in the third over, and two balls later, Gautam Gambhir got a thick outside edge, but VRV Singh was slow off the blocks at third man.

Gambhir provided the early momentum, making room against Irfan Pathan to send the ball racing through the off side. He was fortunate that a few mistimed shots managed to stay clear of the fielders. Sehwag, who had been getting a thin share of the strike, carted consecutive sixes off VRV Singh through the off side, before he steered a fuller delivery wide of the keeper to make it 22 for the over.

Ramesh Powar was brought in after the Powerplays, and he castled Gambhir. That didn't deter Sehwag, who smashed a four and six in Piyush Chawla's first over, then stepped out against Powar and deposited him over midwicket, before rain halted Delhi's innings at 94 for 1 after 8.1 overs.

A long interval followed. Sehwag, on 47 off 19, appeared to have lost his touch on resumption, as Delhi came out with the intention to clear the boundaries with the innings reduced to 11 overs. They lost wickets in a flurry, and strong winds didn't aid batting either. James Hopes bowled an exceptional final over, giving away just three, and Sehwag had crawled after the resumption, managing just four off nine deliveries.

Punjab were chasing a revised target of 123, but a charged-up fielding effort from Delhi had them in trouble. Shikhar Dhawan and Shoaib Malik both got under a skier from the in-form Shaun Marsh, before Dhawan managed to hold on after avoiding a collision. Glenn McGrath had given away just three in the first over, before Yuvraj Singh, who had delightfully steered Pradeep Sangwan to the leg-side boundary before making room and depositing one in the off-side stands, hit him for consecutive sixes. It seemed to be a captains' day out but Yuvraj mistimed a pull off a slower ball, and unlike Punjab's sloppy efforts in the field, Delhi's fielders managed to take some stunning catches.

Amit Mishra, the legspinner, removed Hopes soon after, and Punjab were left needing 90 off 42. Then Sehwag came on and the match turned. Jayawardene, who hadn't made much of an impact in the tournament, deftly guided one past short third man, before reverse-sweeping to beat the same fielder. Another swept four and a Pomersbach six had Punjab's innings up and running again, and two sixes were hit in Mishra's next. Pomersbach's six off Farveez Maharoof brought up the fifty stand off just 19 balls, and the final blow from Jayawardene left Delhi with a sinking feeling.

Rajasthan maul abject Bangalore

Graeme Smith scored an unbeaten 75 as the Rajasthan Royals maintained their unbeaten record at home...

Bangalore Royal Challengers' woeful IPL campaign plunged new depths at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium as they slumped to a 65-run drubbing at the hands of Rajasthan Royals, who are virtually assured a place in the semi-finals with their eighth win in ten games.

Apart from the toss, everything was perfect for Rajasthan as Bangalore put in another thoroughly abject performance with the ball, bat, and in the field. Swapnil Asnodkar and Graeme Smith were the protagonists for Rajasthan, putting together 109 in a mere 12.2 overs - the second first-wicket century stand for the team - before Shane Watson applied the finishing touches with a 28-ball 46. They finally settled for 197, which was far too many for a batting line-up, which is completely lacking in form and confidence. The first three wickets went down within 14 deliveries, and though Rahul Dravid struck a defiant 36-ball 75, the result was never in doubt.

Dravid decided to field first despite afternoon temperatures soaring to 48 degrees Celsius, and if that wasn't bad enough, his bowlers were subjected to a pummelling by Asnodkar and Smith, who cut, drove, pulled and edged the rivals to distraction.

With two wins in nine games, Bangalore could have done with all the luck possible; instead, through the early exchanges it was Rajasthan that got the rub of the green as both batsmen pinged the third-man region regularly. Asnodkar got a 50, but it was one of the most unconvincing half-centuries of the tournament, as he got the benefit of an lbw shout, and then edged twice over the wicketkeeper off Jacques Kallis.

After seven overs Rajasthan were motoring along at 63 without loss, mostly thanks to Asnodkar, but Smith soon joined in the act, making room and striking the ball cleanly over mid-on and midwicket. Abdur Razzak became the first Bangladesh player to get an IPL game, but his start was hardly auspicious: he began with a no-ball which was edged for four by Smith, and the free hit was deposited on the midwicket roof.

Smith and Asnodkar managed five fours in the third-man region, and 56 of the 90 runs scored off the bat came behind the wicket (wagon-wheel numbers exclude 19 extras)

Those early exchanges swung the momentum Rajasthan's way, and they ensured they never let it go. Anil Kumble finally got his first wicket of the tournament, but Asnodkar's departure only brought in the even more destructive Watson, who quickly made his presence felt with a couple of superb pull shots when Kumble pitched it fractionally short. Smith reached his half-century in the same over, pulling the last ball of Kumble's spell over midwicket for six. Dravid turned to pace, medium pace and spin, but the run-fest continued unabated as Watson teed off whenever the ball was pitched on a length, freeing his arms to cut, pull and drive the bowlers.

As has happened throughout the tournament, Bangalore were let down in the field as well. Apart from Patil's poor form behind the stumps, there were misfields galore in the outfield. Misbah-ul-Haq dropped a tough chance from Watson when he was on 19, Praveen didn't react at all to a lofted shot from Smith four balls later when it dropped a few feet in front of him, and Vinay Kumar rounded off a miserable performance by missing a sitter from Watson in the final over.

Bangalore's run-chase was a non-starter. The out-of-sorts J Arunkumar holed out to mid-off in the first over. Misbah's disappointing tournament continued - he has now scored 32 runs in four innings - as he hopelessly miscued a pull to mid-on, and when Virat Kohli chopped on onto his stumps off the impressive Sohail Tanvir, Bangalore's total read a shambolic 5 for 3. Kallis' method of moving across his stumps and flicking everything to the on side fetched him a disappointing 20 from 29 balls. The difference in the fielding of the two teams came out starkly too, as Shane Warne plucked off a stunning caught-and-bowled low to his right when Zaheer Khan clubbed one straight back to him.

The only show of resistance came from Dravid, whose unbeaten 75 was a strong message to the rest of his batsmen. The result was admittedly a foregone conclusion, but Dravid made his point emphatically, carving six sixes, including three in an over from Yusuf Pathan. That knock lifted Bangalore to a somewhat respectable total, but it was hardly enough to stop Rajasthan, who have now won all six games at home.

Pietersen in line for record IPL contract

Kevin Pietersen: heading for India...

Kevin Pietersen expects to be playing in India next year, and is on the verge of signing the most lucrative deal yet witnessed in the Indian Premier League, after being offered in excess of US$4million for a three-year contract by an undisclosed IPL franchise.

According to a report in Saturday's Daily Mail, the deal has been financed by one of India's wealthiest families, who want Pietersen to sign "at any price". Mahendra Singh Dhoni is currently the most valuable player in the competition, earning in excess of US$1.5million a year, but such is Pietersen's appeal - on the field and off it - his final figure could yet top that.

The news comes as a blow to the England & Wales Cricket Board, who had hoped to prevent their players from being lured to India ahead of a pivotal summer that includes the ICC World Twenty20 and, of course, the Ashes. An ECB insider told the Daily Mail that the head coach, Peter Moores, would have the final say on which contracted players would be permitted to join the IPL, but in Pietersen's case, they were already resigned to making an exception.

Pietersen is currently 28 and approaching his prime as a cricketer. He has not missed a Test for England since making his debut in the 2005 Ashes, although he will now face a busy run-up to the 2009 rematch against Australia, with England scheduled to tour the Caribbean in February and March before his proposed three-week stint in India. The ECB is naturally fearful of what could happen if the workload proves too much for him, or any other colleagues who might be lured by the IPL, but they are privately resigned to the situation. One man who would not be allowed to take part, however, would be Andrew Flintoff, given his ongoing fitness problems.

Speaking to the same paper earlier in the week, Pietersen set his stall out to play for England until he is 35, but insisted that he shouldn't be denied the opportunity to make the most of his prime years. "I do wonder how long I'm going to do this for," he said. "Time will tell. I could get injured tomorrow and would be finished. That's why I was frustrated and irritated when we weren't allowed to go to India. I definitely want to go next year."

It had been mooted in some quarters that Pietersen could chose to go freelance if the ECB didn't accede to his demands, but he denied that this had entered his thoughts. "Turning down a central contract is not something that has entered my head yet," he said, "but it would be horrendous if four or five of England's best players decided to do that and go to India instead. We should not be in a position where we have to choose. No one else had to."

In a more promising development for the ECB, its proposed tie-up with Allen Stanford is nearing completion. According to the Daily Telegraph, the deal will be worth US$200million over five years, with an annual $20million match to be staged in Antigua until 2012. "The lawyers are still working on the fine print," the ECB's chief executive, David Collier, told the paper, "but we have finalised our negotiations and everything is in place."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Kolkata embarrassed in record rout

Shaun Pollock led the way as the Kolkata Knight Riders were bundled out for 67, the lowest total of the IPL...

Shaun Pollock led a stand-out seam-bowling performance as the Mumbai Indians notched up the most convincing win of the tournament, and their fifth in a row, handing the Kolkata Knight Riders an eight-wicket drubbing at the Wankhede Stadium. None of Kolkata's batsmen came to terms with the seamer-friendly pitch, crumbling to an embarrassing 67 all out - the lowest score of the tournament and the fifth-lowest in all Twenty20 matches - before Sanath Jayasuriya hastened the finish with a 17-ball 48, as Mumbai sailed home with 87 deliveries to spare - a record in all Twenty20 games - significantly boosting their hopes of a semi-final berth.

The visitors were put in by Sachin Tendulkar, who won his second toss in a row, but even he wouldn't have dreamed of the display his bowlers served up. The pitch helped significantly, offering bounce and plenty of seam movement to each of the five bowlers who were used - in fact, so good were the conditions for seam bowling that Rajesh Pawar, the left-arm spinner who made his IPL debut, wasn't even pressed into the attack.

The start was deceptively normal, with Salman Butt moving away to club Pollock down the ground for four, and then carving Ashish Nehra for the 400th six of the IPL. From then on, only one team did all the celebrating.

Pollock led the way, bowling with impeccable control, seaming the ball both ways from a perfect length, and giving the batsmen no chance. Against a top four that has an equal mix of right- and left-handers, Pollock kept his line around off stump against both, extracting bounce and seaming the ball away to induce the edge. Butt was the first to perish to the movement, getting a leading edge while trying to flick, offering Tendulkar the first of four catches.

Thereafter, the slide was swift. Kolkata made the situation worse when Aakash Chopra was involved in his second mix-up with Sourav Ganguly in three games, charging down the pitch even as Ganguly didn't respond. Another perfect delivery in the corridor from Pollock accounted for David Hussey, and when Tendulkar decided to bowl his four overs on the trot, Pollock responded by inducing an edge off Mohammad Hafeez, which was snaffled by Robin Uthappa at a wide second slip.

Pollock was done, finishing with figures of 3 for 12, but there was no respite for Kolkata, as Dwayne Bravo continued from where Pollock had left off, getting exaggerated seam movement in both directions. Wriddhiman Saha was defeated by the bounce and movement, and slashed to Tendulkar, and Kolkata had lost half their side for 29.

With the conditions so friendly for the seamers, Tendulkar cleverly decided to use Dominic Thornely and Rohan Raje, both medium-pace bowlers, and the results came almost instantly. Raje removed the dangerous Laxmi Ratan Shukla with a superb delivery which pitched on middle and seamed away to take off stump.
Kolkata never recovered after suffering a double blow in the third over, and were eventually bundled out in less than 16 overs...

Through the destruction at the other end, Ganguly hung on patiently, hoping to weather the storm and guide Kolkata to a respectable total. He came in to bat in the third over and stayed till the 13th, but was stuck at the non-striker's end most of the time, facing only 20 deliveries as the batting line-up was destroyed at the other end. He finally perished in tame fashion, as Yogesh Takawale hung on to a catch with his second attempt as Ganguly tried to cut. With Kolkata's last hope falling, the rest followed quickly.

Kolkata's only hope of avoiding complete embarrassment was for Shoaib Akhtar to do an encore of the previous game. He began with a fiery first over, having Jayasuriya dropped at slip off the first ball, and then winning his personal battle with Tendulkar, who nibbled one to the wicketkeeper, slightly dampening the spirits of the home crowd.

Jayasuriya's response to that dismissal was emphatic, as he waded into Ishant Sharma and Shoaib in the next two overs. After clipping Ishant unconvincingly over mid-on, he found his timing perfectly in Shoaib's next over: a flick and a short-arm pull both sailed over the boundary, while two crisp drives raced through the covers in an over which leaked 23, more than one-third of the target.

The Shoaib threat was over, and the end came soon after, as Jayasuriya flicked a no-ball off Ishant for his 17th six of the IPL, the highest for a batsman in the tournament, and then finished it off next ball. Mumbai now have the best net run-rate, and with ten points from nine games, have given themselves an excellent chance of making the last four.

Kumble comes out in support of Dravid

Firm backing: Anil Kumble comes out in support of Rahul Dravid...

Anil Kumble has firmly backed Rahul Dravid, the captain of the Bangalore Royal Challengers, and said it was time "people who matter" understand what sports is all about.

Kumble's statement comes in the wake of the comments made by Vijay Mallya, the liquor baron who owns the franchise, where he defended his decision to sack Charu Sharma, the CEO, and also said his biggest mistake was to trust Dravid on matters of team selection.

"What's important though, is that at this time, you need all the support and backing you can get," Kumble wrote in his column for Hindustan Times. "You need the people around you, the people who matter, to understand what sport is all about, to realise that no one goes out there to lose.

"What's unfortunate is that, invariably, everyone starts pointing fingers at the captain. So it stands all the more to reason that people within the camp then stand up and say 'we believe in you and your team'. That's what's most important in this kind of situation. I do understand that the IPL is different and there is a corporate look and feel to the whole concept. But having said that, at the end of the day, it is a cricket match - one that a cricketer does not want to lose."

Kumble admitted that his side had fallen too far back in the tournament - after losing seven of their first nine games - but felt there was still an opportunity to get back the winning feeling. "As players, we go through various ups and downs in our careers, there are phases when nothing one does is wrong and there are others where the same things that come so naturally to you seem like alien concepts," he wrote.

"But as cricketers, we also know the bad times will pass, that we will pick ourselves up and bounce back. There's nothing new in that and I expect we will here too. It might be somewhat late for this tournament and that's unfortunate, but we have a bunch of proven quality players and nothing can take that away."

VVS Laxman had earlier come out in support of Dravid, saying that the side had only fallen back because they had lost out on some close games. "If they had won those, no questions would have been raised about his captaincy,"

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rajasthan players to stay on in India

After some initial concerns, Shane Warne has decided to remain in India...

The Indian Premier League's Jaipur franchise has discussed the sensitive security situation in the city with its players and is sure that all members of Rajasthan Royals, its IPL team, will be available for Saturday's home match against Bangalore Royal Challengers, a team official said.

"I can confirm that all players of the Rajasthan Royals team are available for Saturday's game," Narendra Joshi, the team's media manager, told Cricinfo. "We are talking with the players, who are in Goa right now for a break, and there are no issues regarding the match. All the players will reach Jaipur on Friday morning."

Darren Berry, Rajasthan's team manager, had told the Sydney Morning Herald from Goa that there is a "real option" three of the team's highest profile players will not return to Jaipur following a series of bombs that killed about 80 people in the city on Tuesday. Berry is in Goa with Shane Warne, Shane Watson and Graeme Smith and said the group had considered "getting on the plane and getting out of here".

Bangalore, too, had expressed concerns over playing in Jaipur and requested the IPL governing council to shift the game to their home ground. However, their request was rejected by Lalit Modi, the IPL commissioner, and it's learnt that the Bangalore team management has informed the players and support staff - most of them are currently in Delhi - that the squad will proceed to Jaipur on Friday morning.

"We are not comfortable at all," Berry told the Australian newspaper. "This is an extremely uncomfortable situation. Cricket has been good to me, but I have a wife and three kids back in Melbourne and they are less than impressed with the part of the world I am in."

The IPL has said that there will be an increased security presence for the match. "I am not at liberty to describe security arrangements but yes, we have beefed up the security arrangements," Modi told PTI. "We are requesting everybody to come in the stadium without bags, lighters, matches or bottles. Also the players area would be totally cordoned off and nobody would be allowed to go near the players."

Meanwhile, Rajasthan Royals CEO Fraser Castellino said the franchise was in touch with the IPL and the state agencies and was satisfied with the security arrangements. "We are working closely with IPL and the state government agencies," he said. "We had sniffer dog squads and bomb disposal squads covering the stadium and outer perimeter areas, so we are taking it seriously.

"Security is a concern but we are satisfied that sufficient steps are being taken to look into the matter and ensure that no untoward incident happens."

Magical Mishra bowls Delhi to victory

Gautam Gambhir became the first to cross 400 runs in the IPL and his 79 at the Kotla guided Delhi to a match-winning total...

A dramatic final-over hat-trick by Amit Mishra, when Deccan Chargers needed only 15 runs off six balls, pushed Delhi Daredevils over the finish line and ended a four-match losing streak with a tense 12-run win. Gautam Gambhir and Shikhar Dhawan set up a formidable target with attacking half-centuries and Mishra made timely breakthroughs in his two spells to break Deccan's momentum and seal the victory.

Delhi's early victories were fashioned by the combined efforts of their miserly new-ball pair and an in-form top order. Today, it didn't matter that the bowlers didn't have the best day at the office. Gambhir and Dhawan hunted as a pair, made the best out of what the benign pitch had to offer, and the score of 194 was just sufficient to guarantee a victory, despite a spirited effort by Venugopal Rao at the end.

Desperate for a win to keep their chance of staying alive in the tournament, Deccan changed their strategy to counter the threat of Glenn McGrath and Mohammad Asif by promoting Shahid Afridi. Suddenly, both bowlers, used to bowling miserly spells, were suddenly in unfamiliar territory as Deccan rocketed to 44 in the first four overs. In the midst of the blaze, Delhi pulled back with the wicket of Gilchrist, caught brilliantly by Dilshan at mid-off, but it didn't stop Afridi from going over the top.

With Gibbs for company, the pair wrecked Asif and McGrath for 34 off two successive overs, which included scoops over extra cover and pulls over deep backward square leg. Both generated tremendous bat speed and a result, shots cleared the boundary ropes by huge margins, some landing several rows back.

At the end of the Powerplay, Deccan progressed at nearly 12 an over but from then on, fortunes turned. Sehwag tossed the ball to the legspinner Mishra he struck first ball, as Afridi mis-hit one that really stopped on him. He cleaned up Gibbs' middle stump in his next over to temporarily halt Deccan's assault.

Rohit Sharma then redressed the balance for Deccan, dominating a stand of 39 for the fourth wicket with Styris. Rajat Bhatia, the medium pacer, came in for some harsh treatment as Rohit bludgeoned him for 19 off a single over, sending a low full toss over long-on before pulling a short ball over deep square leg.

However, a timely bowling change swung the tide in Delhi's favour. Maharoof returned in the 13th over and cleaned up Rohit's offstump as he attempted a paddle sweep and as a result of that, the momentum slipped and the asking rate started to climb. Scott Styris couldn't quite push on, managing only two boundaries in his 29. That increased the pressure on Rao, and for the second time in as many matches, fought a lone battle. The home side felt the pinch when Rao carted Maharoof for two sixes in an over, backing away and picking up the slower deliveries.

He perished in the penultimate over, when Deccan needed 25 at the start of it, skying one to AB de Villiers at long-on. A sliced six over backward point by Ravi Teja suddenly turned the script and Deccan needed 15 off the last over. Sehwag turned to his best bowler of the evening, Mishra, for the final over. Teja, Pragyan Ojha and RP Singh all failed in their attempt to clear the ropes and Mishra picked up the second hat-trick of the tournament.

The high-scoring contest contradicted early predictions about the grassy pitch assisting the seamers. After losing Sehwag to a wild slash, the Delhi innings gained momentum in the fourth over when Gambhir took on RP. He adjusted brilliantly to a short delivery aimed at his face and slapped him over backward square leg, then stepped down and pulled the next over deep midwicket and followed it up with a slice past backward point to take 20 off the over.

Dhawan came into his own once the support seamers - Sarvesh Kumar and Styris - operated, punishing anything full on the pads and finding the gaps. The spinners were not spared either. After reverse-sweeping Rao for four, he smashed Afridi out of the attack with successive fours, smashing the first over his head and the next over extra cover to bring up his fifty.

Gambhir too carted Afridi for a huge six over deep midwicket shortly after reaching his half-century and in the process went past the 400-run mark in the tournament. Pragyan Ojha, the left-arm spinner who was kept out till the 15th over, struck with his second ball, firing one down the legside after seeing Gambhir give him the charge.

Lusty blows by the two Sri Lankans - Farveez Maharoof and Dilshan - took Delhi close to the 200-mark though Deccan played into their own hands with some ordinary displays in the field. That proved crucial in the end and Delhi can take heart from the fact that the architects of the victory were largely the local players and not the overseas recruits.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sizzling Jayasuriya pounds Chennai

Sanath Jayasuriya was simply unstoppable on the night...

Sachin Tendulkar's return dominated most of the pre-match buzz but it was the eruption from Sanath Jayasuriya that Mumbai toasted at the end of a comfortable nine-wicket win, their fourth in a row, at the Wankhede Stadium. Chennai appeared to have cobbled together a fighting total, in conditions that assisted swing bowling, but Jayasuriya's sizzler, the second-fastest IPL hundred that was punctuated with 11 sixes, put an emphatic end to the contest.

Mumbai's bowlers set-up this win with a fine new-ball exhibition that knocked off the top order. Shaun Pollock wasn't leading Mumbai today but his immaculate early spell (4-1-9-1) led an impressive effort that justified their decision to field first. Mahendra Singh Dhoni and S Badrinath stitched together a 95-run stand but 156 was never going to be challenging if even one batsman got going.

It was inevitable. Jayasuriya, who had made a short trip home during Mumbai's extended break, was yet to explode in the IPL and there was nothing Chennai could do once sixes began to drip off his bat. Nonchalant short-arm jabs sailed over the midwicket fence and a few powerful slashes soared over third man. The bowlers were rattled - they leaked wides and drifted on the pads too often - and fed Jayasuriya in his favourite areas. The fact that 102 off his 114 runs came in boundaries, told a story.

It was an innings reminiscent of the mid-90s, a time when Jayasuriya filled bowlers with a sense of fear. In fact it was at the same ground when he hammered an unforgettable 151 not out in the Independence Cup in 1997, an innings that was appreciated in hushed silence. This, though, was a celebration in power-hitting, with the crowd getting fully behind Jayasuriya in his fiery mission. One can only imagine the possibilities if Tendulkar had decided to bat first, allowing Jayasuriya a full 20 overs.

The manner in which he treated his fellow Sri Lankan bowlers was interesting - he attempted a couple of audacious reverse-paddles against Muttiah Muralitharan before blistering Chamara Kapudegera for 26 runs in five balls. He rushed to his hundred with two pulled sixes off Kapugedera - celebrating like a schoolboy who reached his maiden ton - and capped it off with one more that landed on the roof of the Wankhede. It was an unforgettable innings and Mumbai's response to what Adam Gilchrist did to them a few weeks back.

The bowlers deserve an honourable mention. It was a slew of medium-pacers who propelled Mumbai to an upset win over the Rajasthan Royals in the previous game and they utilised bowler-friendly conditions here too. The ball swung around through the innings and six medium-pacers shaped the ball either way to make life difficult for the batsmen.

Pollock turned in a typically miserly spell, including a maiden to finish off against a relatively new Dhoni. Dhoni, who said he would have fielded first had he won the toss, watched his side slump to 46 for 4 with the top order struggling against the accurate medium-pacers.

Pollock should have had Stephen Fleming in the first ball of the second over - when an edge fell just short of first slip - or even in the third - when Jayasuriya muffed a skier at point - but he had to settle for S Vidyut's wicket two balls later when Rohan Raje clung on to another skier at mid-off. Suresh Raina fell poking to an away-swinger from Dwayne Bravo before Kapugedera, the right-hander, did exactly the same to Dhawal Kulkarni's nippy away-cutter.

Dhoni and Badrinath redressed the balance somewhat. The pair improvised when the opportunity presented but it was Dhoni's fierce hitting that gave the bowlers no chance - even if he wasn't in position, the power behind the shots was always going to take it to the boundary ropes. Badrinath, who repertoire ranges from the square drive on the back foot to the paddle over short fine leg, brought up his second successive fifty. It appeared as if it could be a defendable total but Jayasuriya's blitz sunk them in a trice.

BCCI bans Harbhajan for five ODIs

More time away from the action for Harbhajan Singh...

Harbhajan Singh has been banned by the Indian board for five ODIs for slapping Sreesanth during an IPL match last month. The ban means Harbhajan will miss India's forthcoming tri-series in Bangladesh and the start of the Asia Cup in Pakistan, in addition to 11 matches in the IPL as earlier decided by the league.

The BCCI's disciplinary committee, comprising president Sharad Pawar, president-elect Shashank Manohar and vice-president Chirayu Amin, handed out the punishment after meeting Harbhajan in Mumbai.

The committee invoked Rule 3.2.1 of the BCCI regulations and handed out the maximum punishment under it. "Under this provision, the maximum punishment that can be meted out to a player is 'a ban up to a maximum of 5 ODIs and / or 3 Test matches'," a release from the board said.

"The committee accordingly decided to ban Harbhajan Singh for five one-day internationals, starting today (14th May 2008), and further observed that any further instance of misconduct will invoke a life-ban."

Sudhir Nanavati, the board's investigating commissioner who submitted a 14-page report on the incident, was also present at the meeting. Nanavati concluded his investigation into the row on May 12 and submitted his findings to the board.

England out to justify favourites' tag

Ryan Sidebottom will look to capitalise on his golden winter in which he took hat-tricks, career-bests and every plaudit available...

Match facts

Thursday, May 15 to Monday, May 19, 2008
Start time 11.00 (local), 10.00 (GMT)

The Big Picture

It's the start of a new English summer, but the resumption of a familiar and unexpectedly intriguing tussle. This is the 11th consecutive international fixture between England and New Zealand, and there will have been 19 in a row by the end of the one-day international series in June. Nevertheless, familiarity has not yet bred contempt, and both sides enter this Test with plenty to prove after the hits and misses of their previous three-Test encounter in March. England emerged triumphant on that occasion after losing embarrassingly in the first match at Hamilton, and start once again as favourites, but nothing suits the Kiwis better than being written off as no-hopers. And no venue inspires touring sides more effectively than Lord's.

Test form guide

England - WWLDDL
New Zealand - LLWWWL

Watch out for ...

Ryan Sidebottom The Man of the Series in New Zealand, where he took hat-tricks, career-bests and every plaudit available. He's just been named as England's Player of the Year for 2007, after picking up 53 wickets in 12 Tests, and will be looking to make 2008 even more special.

Brendon McCullum Arguably the most explosive attacking batsman in the world today. He made 96 on his last visit to Lord's in 2004, but has yet to make a century against senior Test opposition. Last month's incredible unbeaten 158 in the IPL, however, showed just what he can do when the mood takes him.

Aaron Redmond New Zealand's top order was the weak link during the home series defeat, and the loss of Stephen Fleming has exacerbated the problem. Nevertheless, Redmond, who is set to make his debut, has a watertight technique and a burning desire to occupy the crease come what may. His six-and-a-half hour 146 against the England Lions demonstrated his abilities.

Team news

Unexpectedly, England named an unchanged eleven for the third match running, with Matthew Hoggard missing out. Andrew Flintoff might have been back in the fold had his side strain not postponed his comeback, but the coach, Peter Moores, is keen to reward the players who turned the team around in New Zealand.

England 1 Andrew Strauss, 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Michael Vaughan (capt), 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Paul Collingwood, 7 Tim Ambrose (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Ryan Sidebottom, 10 James Anderson, 11 Monty Panesar.

New Zealand, on the other hand, are expected to make sweeping changes, both personnel and positional. There are three changes in the top order from the Napier defeat, with Stephen Fleming retired, and Matthew Bell and Mathew Sinclair omitted. Redmond comes in for his debut, along with the Northern Districts rookie, Daniel Flynn, while James Marshall is recalled at No. 3. Oram returns in place of Grant Elliott, but with McCullum moving up to No. 5, he slips into the conventional allrounder's slot of No. 7.

New Zealand (probable) 1 Jamie How, 2 Aaron Redmond, 3 James Marshall, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Brendon McCullum, 6 Daniel Flynn, 7 Jacob Oram, 8 Daniel Vettori (capt), 9 Kyle Mills, 10 Tim Southee, 11 Chris Martin.

Stats and trivia

New Zealand have won just eight of their 91 Tests against England, and only four of those have come away from home. They did win at Lord's in 1999, however, en route to a memorable series win.

Tim Southee, who made his debut at Napier in March, scored more runs in a single innings (77) than his probable new-ball partner, Chris Martin, has managed in 40 Tests (74 runs at 2.55).


"I do expect to win, but we're not going to underestimate them. They're a good bowling unit and they scrap very hard."
England's coach, Peter Moores, talks up his side's prospects

"They are just a steady side and on their day they can be a very good side."
New Zealand's Chris Martin hits back.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Shoaib leads Delhi drubbing

Shoain Akhtar clinched the win for Kolkata on his IPL debut...

Shoaib Akhtar made a dramatic IPL debut taking four wickets in a blistering new-ball spell to condemn the Delhi Daredevils to their fourth straight defeat. In what could be a key match in the scramble for a spot in the semi-finals, the Kolkata Knight Riders batting fizzled and they posted only 133 but Shoaib and an inspired fielding effort vindicated captain Sourav Ganguly's decision to bat first and saw them through to a 23-run win, their third successive triumph.

Shoaib has played only one match in the last five months but showed no sign of rustiness, as he removed the dangerous Virender Sehwag for a golden duck in the first over. There was a hint of outswing and Sehwag's footwork-free waft edged the ball to wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha as the Eden Gardens crowd, quiet after Kolkata's poor batting performance, regained its voice. Gautam Gambhir, the tournament's leading run-scorer, lashed a couple of boundaries off Ishant Sharma before becoming Shoaib's second victim. A short and wide delivery was cut straight to David Hussey at point and Shoaib set off on his trademark arm-outstretched airplane celebration.

An inside-edge saved AB de Villiers on the first delivery off Shoaib's third over but de Villiers fell next ball as he top-edged a bouncer to square leg. Manoj Tiwary fell in the following ball, trapped lbw off the very next delivery and while Tillakaratne Dilshan prevented the hat-trick, Delhi were reeling at 32 for 4. Shoaib, playing after his five-year ban was suspended for one month, finished with outstanding figures of 3-0-11-4.

Three overs later Ashok Dinda uprooted Shikhar Dhawan's off stump but Dilshan was unflustered by the fall of wickets and kept going for his shots. As he raced along to 25 with the help of five boundaries, the required rate for the last nine overs was a gettable 7.5. However, Delhi were dealt a blow as he was run out while trying to steal a quick single.

With franchise owner Shah Rukh Khan acting as cheerleader and the Kolkata's anthem "korbo, lorbo, jitbo re" booming through the loudspeakers, the crowd was creating a raucous din but Amit Mishra and Farveez Maharoof gave them some anxious moments with a fighting 34-run stand. A poor piece of running from Maharoof though snuffed out Delhi's hopes - after gloving a short ball to the leg side, he neither got between the throw and the stumps nor ran in a straight line towards the non-striker's end to be caught inches short. With Kolkata in the ascendancy, Laxmi Ratan Shukla was given an over and he took the remaining three wickets to seal the victory as the crowd erupted.

Earlier, Glenn McGrath was typically miserly with the new ball and Pradeep Sangwan also didn't offer too many loose balls as Kolkata struggled to inject some momentum. Aakash Chopra's troubles with the bat continued and he managed only 13, despite being reprieved early on by Gautam Gambhir at wide slip.

His dismissal was greeted with a roar by the crowd as local boy Ganguly strode out. They had more to cheer as he imperiously slammed his second ball, a free hit, over the bowler's head for six, but were silenced two deliveries later when he was bowled by Yo Mahesh after his attempted pull failed to make contact with the ball.

With Kolkata at 47 for 2 after seven, Salman Butt and David Hussey tried to rebuild and while they strung together a 40-run stand, there were unable to provide the acceleration the innings desperately needed. Besides Butt's two powerful drives through cover off Yo Mahesh, there weren't too many boundaries and the runs came mainly in the form of singles. Just as they were giving Kolkata a platform from which they could take off, Butt perished for 48, slicing a Mahesh delivery to McGrath at mid-off.

Hussey then had to play his by-now-familiar role of trying to rescue Kolkata from the top-order's failings. He is the world's leading six-hitter in Twenty20s but he failed to provide the necessary fireworks; there were a couple of huge sixes on the leg side but Hussey fell attempting another for a run-a-ball 31, lobbing a catch to midwicket.

However, Shoaib's heroics helped Kolkata defend the paltry total and consolidate their fourth spot. Delhi, meanwhile, again demonstrated their inability to win when the top order fails and now less than two weeks after being in the top spot, they face an uphill battle to make the semi-finals.

Blasts cast shadow over Jaipur match

The bomb blasts in Jaipur has cast a shadow of uncertainty over Saturday's IPL match between the Rajasthan Royals and the Bangalore Royal Challengers in the city. Bangalore have offered to host the game at the Chinnaswamy Stadium.

"We have conveyed our decision to the IPL council," Martin Crowe, the Bangalore coach, told Cricinfo from Chandigarh, where the rest of the team is currently staying. "The franchises are discussing the issue. A final decision will be made tomorrow. We are going to Delhi tomorrow and will probably head over to Bangalore after a night's stay in Delhi."

However, Fraser Castellino, the CEO of the Jaipur franchise, said he had not heard of this development and didn't want to comment on the possibility. Bangalore have already hosted Rajasthan in the tournament - on April 26 - in a game that the visitors won by a comfortable margin.

At least five major blasts rocked Jaipur, the base of the Rajasthan Royals, with the death and injury toll on the rise. The Rajasthan team haven't been affected: most of the team is currently holidaying in Goa and the others have gone back to their respective homes.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tendulkar set to return against Chennai

He's back: Sachin Tendulkar returns to the Mumbai side after missing the first seven games because of injury...

Sachin Tendulkar has confirmed he is fit and will lead the Mumbai Indians in their next game on Wednesday against the Chennai Super Kings. The news is a shot in the arm for Mumbai who played the first half of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in the absence of Tendulkar, forced to sit out due to groin injury.

But Tendulkar announced today that the rehabilitation process had been successful and there was no "discomfort" and that he would open Mumbai's innings along with Sanath Jayasuriya.

"I will be playing on May 14. It's looking very good and I'm feeling very positive," Tendulkar said after a two-hour long batting session at the Wankhede Stadium. He said it was really "tough" for him to sit out but acknowledged the support of the fitness staff who had "really worked hard, especially the physio and the masseur".

Tendulkar first picked up the injury during the CB Series in Australia and it got worse after the first Test against South Africa in Chennai, forcing him to miss the final two matches of the series. He was unable to recover for the start of the IPL, missing Mumbai's first seven games.

Though Mumbai lost their first four games, Tendulkar was careful not to return before he was completely fit. "It was disappointing to miss the two Tests against South African and then seven IPL games. But during the first half of the rehabilitation I had to completely rest and followed it by strengthening of the muscles and working out a bit. With the help of the fitness staff all the things went fine and I'm feeling strong now and there is no discomfort."

In his absence Harbhajan Singh led Mumbai for the first three games and after he was banned for an on-field row with Sreesanth, Shaun Pollock came in as the stand-in captain. Asked if it would be difficult for the side to have another new captain especially when Pollock was proving to be successful, Tendulkar said the players had supported each other through it all and they understood each other well.

"I will be the captain. Shaun was a makeshift captain and he did a terrific job and the other senior players have also contributed well. It's not about who the captain is but it's about helping each other and that's what Mumbai Indians have been doing and will continue to do."

Despite his minimal exposure to the Twenty20 format - he has played only five games so far - Tendulkar was looking ahead to the challenge ahead. "I always try hard and I've always given my best." Mumbai are currently placed sixth in the points table, just above the Deccan Chargers and the Bangalore Royal Challengers.

Marsh leads nine-wicket mauling

Shaun Marsh's unbeaten 74 set up an emphatic nine-wicket win for the Kings XI Punjab...

The troubles don't seem to abate for the Bangalore Royal Challengers; off-field controversies plagued the bottom-placed side going into the match against Kings XI Punjab, and a nine-wicket mauling in Mohali leaves the second-most expensive franchise in the IPL all but out of the semi-finals.

On a hard deck suited for strokeplay, Bangalore's batsmen once again failed to fire, and after they were restricted to 143, the chase seemed a mere formality. Shaun Marsh, though, didn't show any mercy on a hapless opposition, and his unbeaten 74 completed an emphatic nine-wicket win, pushing his team to second place .

After Rahul Dravid, an under-pressure Bangalore captain, decided to bat, Misbah-ul-Haq and Virat Kohli gave a glimmer of hope that the side's top-order woes had come to an end. But unfortunately, both batsmen failed to capitalise on their starts.

Sreesanth and Irfan Pathan got the ball to swing early: Pathan's first over was a maiden, while J Arunkumar was done in by some extra bounce from Sreesanth. That brought in Misbah, who managed to hit two short balls from Sreesanth for four, though not convincingly. At the other end, Kohli dispatched Pathan for successive fours. Misbah then launched Sreesanth just over the long-off boundary, but the four that followed was among the best in the tournament, as Misbah made room to a full delivery on middle, got down on his knee and majestically drove the ball square. But next ball he was out in bizarre fashion, as he somehow trod onto the stumps while pushing a Sreesanth delivery to the off side.

Yuvraj then took the gamble by bringing Piyush Chawla in the final Powerplay over, and though he started by straying on leg, he bowled Kohli after the batsman had swept him twice to the boundary. Once Misbah and Kohli exited, Bangalore failed to keep up the momentum. VRV Singh slipped in a couple of economical overs, and Chawla got his second wicket when he ran towards midwicket to complete a splendid catch off a top-edge from Cameron White.

Dravid once again was unable to improvise as required in the Twenty20 format, and his 27-ball 29 will do little to silence the critics. As in the previous game against Chennai Super Kings, Punjab's bowlers were largely right on the mark at the end. VRV followed up his miserly first spell, in which he gave just eight, with an exceptional second, conceding one less than in his first. He mostly kept it straight, putting in the occasional short delivery, and towards the end he relied primarily on yorkers.

Bangalore needed to strike early to put pressure on Punjab, but the Australian duo of Shaun Marsh and James Hopes got the home side off to a confident start. Hopes gave the innings the early momentum, hitting three sixes, but another attempt at clearing long-off off Vinay Kumar was caught by a diving Dale Steyn.

Marsh, the in-form player, was quiet during the Powerplay overs, and he was lucky as substitute fielder Bharat Chipli grassed one at mid-on when he was on 12. He took on Anil Kumble in his first over, sending one over long-off, as Punjab motored to 70 for 1 after ten. Steyn was brought back to stem the flow, but leaked more runs: Marsh smashed the first delivery through extra cover for four, lifted the next over the square boundary, and then swatted one straight over mid-off's head. A frustrated Steyn then got one in the blockhole, but Marsh deftly sneaked it past the wicketkeeper.

Marsh's fifty came off a single in the same over, and a deflated Bangalore side could do nothing much to stop Punjab from then on. Luke Pomersbach, playing his first game, also took a liking for Kumble, carting him for two sixes and two fours. Kumble, who is yet to take a wicket in the IPL, even resorted to seam-up, but Marsh late-cut it delightfully.

With victory in sight, Marsh and Pomersbach didn't relent, each hitting two boundaries as Zaheer Khan's final over, the penultimate of the game, went for 18. Marsh took a single to seal the deal with 4.2 overs remaining. With his unbeaten 74, Marsh now has a Bradmanesque average of 98.33 in the IPL, and if he continues in the same vein, a semi-final slot shouldn't be a headache for Punjab, who are already sitting pretty at 12 points from eight games.

Punjab start as overwhelming favourites

Shaun Marsh is Punjab's leading run-scorer with 221 runs from four games...

Match facts

Monday, May 12, 2008
Start time 20.00 (local), 14.30 (GMT)

The Big Picture

This is a match between two teams journeying in different directions. After a poor start, King's XI Punjab have won five in a row before being outsmarted by L Balaji and the Chennai Super Kings in a top-of-the-table clash. They're still handily placed to push on to the semi-finals though.

The Bangalore Royal Challengers started poorly, humiliated in the tournament opener, and have managed to plumb new depths in subsequent matches. They have two narrow wins to show for their efforts, and wretched fielding cost them in at least a couple more games that went to the wire. Bangalore have reached a decisive stage in their campaign, and a couple of further setbacks will mean that the remaining games will have significance only for the teams they play against.

Punjab have won three in a row at home, while Bangalore haven't tasted success away since they won in Mumbai on the third day of the season. The previous encounter between the two sides was a one-sided affair, with Sreesanth's superb opening spell effectively ending the contest, and all signs point to a comfortable home victory.

Tournament position

King's XI Punjab P8, W5, L3, NRR +0.272
Bangalore Royal Challengers P8, W2, L6, NRR -1.309

IPL form (last five matches)

King's XI Punjab: LWWWW
Bangalore Royal Challengers: LLWLL

Watch out for ...

  • Shaun Marsh, who just can't stop scoring, and Sreesanth, bowling at his best after that slap in the face.

  • Cameron White. Against Kolkata, he showed signs of why Bangalore coughed up so much money [US$500,000] for him.

    Team news

    Despite the loss of Brett Lee, the Punjab's pace attack has done an excellent job on home turf. Sreesanth and Irfan Pathan have been a potent new-ball combination, with VRV Singh providing sterling back-up. Piyush Chawla's legspin has also been a handful on a surface that has more bounce than the average Indian one. The batting is still missing the injured Kumar Sangakkara, but Ramnaresh Sarwan is due a big outing.

    King's XI Punjab (probable): 1 Shaun Marsh, 2 James Hopes, 3 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 4 Yuvraj Singh (capt), 5 Mahela Jayawardene, 6 Irfan Pathan, 7 Piyush Chawla, 8 Uday Kaul (wk), 9 Sreesanth, 10 VRV Singh, 11 Gagandeep Singh.

    Bangalore have built and broken down as much as a small boy with a Lego set, and the results haven't been flattering. Jacques Kallis, one of the most expensive foreign imports [$900,000], should continue to sit out, while Misbah-ul-Haq, he of the World Twenty20 heroics, must surely come back in for the yet-to-fire Shivnarine Chanderpaul. The bowlers have done a decent job, though Anil Kumble is still searching for his first wicket in the competition.

    Bangalore Royal Challengers (probable): 1 J Arunkumar, 2 Virat Kohli, 3 Mark Boucher (wk), 4 Cameron White, 5 Misbah-ul-Haq, 6 Rahul Dravid (capt), 7 Praveen Kumar, 8 Anil Kumble, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Vinay Kumar.

    Stats and trivia

  • Punjab, on an average, score 85.5 runs in their first ten overs, while Bangalore lag behind with 70.5 runs at the half-way mark.

  • Marsh, with 221 runs from four innings at 73.66, has the highest average among batsmen currently playing in the IPL.

  • Zaheer Khan, with 13 victims, is the highest-wicket taker in the IPL, while Pathan is at joint second-place with 12 wickets.


    "Twenty20 is unique and lot of young Indian players are excelling in this format. Whether they can take this confidence to the next level is debatable. It's not going to be easy and the skills with which you achieve success in Twenty20 may not help you give you success in Ranji and Tests."
    Rahul Dravid, on whether Twenty20 skills will help in other formats
  • Sunday, May 11, 2008

    Watson seals tense win for Rajasthan

    Shane Watson took 2 for 21 and scored 74 as Rajasthan beat Delhi by three wickets...

    Shane Watson first used the uneven bounce of the Jaipur pitch to keep the Delhi Daredevils in check and then acted as if it didn't exist to bludgeon 74 off 40 balls and maintain the Rajasthan Royals' 100% record at home.

    Shane Warne's strategy of winning the toss, inserting the opposition in and restricting them to a total that his batsmen then chase with ease is getting predictable. But it's also what is keeping the Rajasthan Royals at the top of the points table, with their seventh win of the tournament coming against a side that struggled to match them on the field on Sunday night.

    Though Delhi fought hard to defend their total, the match was more or less decided in the first innings when Rajasthan's bowlers checked the run-scoring to the extent that Delhi didn't hit a six till the 18th over. Watson was the first to inject doubt and uneasiness in to the Delhi openers' minds when he used the short ball to repeatedly beat their bats. Gautam Gambhir leaned out to reach for one that lifted from back of a length and swished wildly in the air. Virender Sehwag's attempted pull off another short one from Watson narrowly missed the edge.

    Munaf Patel varied his length and bowled to his field to choke the runs during the middle overs. Siddharth Trivedi managed to get movement off the seam and troubled Gambhir before knocking over his off stump. Dimitri Mascarenhas, who went for 12 runs in his first over, came back in his second spell to get the wickets of AB de Villiers and Dinesh Karthik in the same over. He finished with figures of 4-0-29-2 in his only IPL match this season and completely justified his selection.

    Rajasthan's fielders lent excellent support to the bowlers, cutting off singles and saving boundaries. Watson reduced a certain four to two runs after de Villiers stroked the ball through extra cover. Watson, fielding at mid-on, ran sideways towards the ball, threw himself towards the ball and got his left hand around it just before it raced past him. Even Munaf, one of the more sluggish fielders in the Indian side, was in the thick of things, trying to throw down the stumps and diving to save runs.

    In contrast Delhi's fielders were sloppy and inaccurate. Graeme Smith was dropped in the first over when he was yet to score, Watson when he was on 26. The two went on to add 71 runs that pretty much took the game away from Delhi.

    But it hadn't looked all that easy for Rajasthan before. They had done well to restrict Delhi to 109 for 6 in 16 overs but Farveez Maharoof and Tillakaratne Dilshan broke free to add 47 in the final three. Then as Maharoof and Glenn McGrath made use of the uneven bounce in the first five overs, Rajasthan struggled to score and lost two wickets with only 15 on the board. The openers were repeatedly beaten off the pitch and Smith, perhaps jittery in the search for runs, sent back Yusuf Pathan from taking a single. But de Villiers, running in from mid-off and diving full length, hit the stumps before Yusuf could get back in. In the next over Smith tapped the ball to midwicket and took for a run but Mohammad Kaif was watching the ball, rooted to his spot and was dismissed for one.

    However once Watson came to the crease, the pitch became a non-issue and both he and Smith targeted the younger Delhi bowlers for their runs. Watson pulled Yo Mahesh for a six over square leg and then slogged the same bowler for a four over long-on. In his next over, Watson shuffled across the stumps and lofted the ball over long-off before driving down the ground. Smith went after Pradeep Sangwan - pulling him masterfully for a four to midwicket. He finally fell to a blinding catch by Yo Mahesh at deep midwicket when he tried to slog legspinner Amit Mishra for a six. At first, Watson played Mishra cautiously by getting forward and defending but in his third over, Watson took him for 15 runs.

    There were a few tense moments in the end for Rajasthan. Wickets continued to fall at the other end but Watson was well-set when Niraj Patel called for a risky single and then sent Watson back to the non-striker's end. Delhi, desperate for a wicket, took a shy at the stumps and an overthrow followed. Watson and Patel decided to take a run and this time, Watson had to dive to get to the crease. Delhi appealed but square-leg umpire Steve Davis turned it down. However Sehwag persisted with umpire Rudi Koertzen and it was finally referred to the third umpire who gave it out. Rajasthan needed seven of 10 balls but Mahesh Rawat finished it off with five to spare.

    Sparkling Ganguly inspires victory

    Sourav Ganguly finally found his groove in the IPL with a 57-ball 91...

    After a torrid run through the first seven matches of the IPL, Sourav Ganguly the batsman finally made his presence felt in stunning style, carving a 57-ball 91 to fashion a convincing 23-run win for the Kolkata Knight Riders, their fourth of the tournament. Ganguly's knock, coupled with a blinder from David Hussey, lifted Kolkata to an imposing 204, which was far too much for the hapless Deccan Chargers, who collapsed to their seventh defeat in nine games and are all but out of the competition.

    Kolkata's batting display was the perfect example in pacing a 20-over innings. Through the first half, Ganguly and Aakash Chopra batted steadily and built a platform: after ten overs, only 73 were on the board, but with nine wickets in hand, there was plenty of ammunition left. That was put to outstanding use later in the innings, as Hussey blitzed 57 off 29 balls in a 102-run partnership that came off a mere eight overs to set up a target which ensured Deccan have lost all four games at home.

    Ganguly had shone with the ball in Kolkata's previous match, but he had struggled with the bat, unable to find the balance between defence and attack, often pottering around the crease and ultimately choosing the wrong ball to attack. All that changed completely here - the shot-selection was exemplary in the early part, and once he found his groove, he cut loose with such ferocity that none of the bowlers had any answers.

    The key for him, though, was to survive the early exchanges and get a start. There was plenty of careful defending through the early part, but importantly, there were no half measures on the attack, as he gave himself room, moved his front foot out of the way, and smeared lofted hits over mid-on and cover. Chaminda Vaas and P Vijaykumar, the new-ball bowlers, were at the receiving end early, and when they shifted the line to leg stump, Ganguly cleverly shuffled across and pulled or flicked to the fine-leg boundary. In between these improvisations was one classical square drive, all timing and grace, when RP Singh strayed in line.

    Having done the hard work, Ganguly then turned it on in style. Throughout his international career, he hasn't had much regard for left-arm spin, and here Pragyan Ojha was the chosen one, as Ganguly smacked two sixes and a four down the ground in the 14th over to signal the beginning of the onslaught. By now he was in supreme form, and it hardly mattered who the bowler was: Styris was pulled and lofted for successive sixes, while the listless Vaas - who struggled with his length and served up a series of full tosses - was carved over midwicket.

    Sourav Ganguly favoured the long-on region, getting 32 of his 91 runs there...

    Hussey joined in on the fun too, gauging the pace of the pitch immediately and striking it cleanly from the get-go. After spanking Vaas for ten off two deliveries, he turned his attention to RP, whose attempts at yorkers were either too short or too full. Twenty came off the 18th over, all courtesy Hussey, who bludgeoned a couple of leg-side sixes as the last seven overs leaked 115.

    Deccan didn't help their cause in the field either: apart from Herschelle Gibbs, the rest put in a woeful display. There were misfields galore, Vaas muffed a sitter late in the innings to reprieve Tatenda Taibu, while the last ball of the innings encapsulated the day's performance, as RP's attempt to throw down the stumps missed the mark and resulted in four overthrows.

    After such a battering in the field, Deccan's only hope was for Adam Gilchrist to fire - especially since Shahid Afridi wasn't in the line-up - but he only managed 24 before miscuing a pull off the impressive Ashok Dinda. The out-of-sorts Gibbs, who has now scored 45 in five innings, had already fallen in Dinda's second over, leaving the rest of the batsmen with far too much to do.

    Ganguly, who took the catch to dismiss Gilchrist, was in the thick of things in the field as well, bowling four economical overs, and taking two wickets, including that of Styris, another big name who has done little. Rohit Sharma offered a glimmer of hope with a couple of typically classy sixes off Ganguly, but, quite fittingly, Ganguly had the last laugh, snaffling him at midwicket.

    Venugopal Rao played a brave hand with a 42-ball 71 and spoilt the figures of Murali Kartik by smashing three sixes in an over, but that only ensured the margin of defeat wasn't an embarrassing one. With four wins from eight games, Kolkata are back in the reckoning for a semi-final berth. Deccan still have a mathematical chance of making the top four, but given their form so far, that will be a miracle.