IPL 2014 Champions Kolkata Knight Riders entered yet another T20 final of the year after their unbroken run of 14 consecutive victories on Thursday against Hobart Hurricanes of Australia. As luck would have it, they batted second since Hurricanes’ stand-in captain Xavier Doherty elected to bat after winning the toss. With most of KKR’s last 14 wins coming from batting second, it was a good omen for Gautam Gambhir in spite of his luck with the coin. KKR slow bowlers restricted Hurricanes to 140 in 20 overs and with Jacques Kallis coming good in the game, KKR coasted home with a 7-wicket victory. By a strange quirk of fate, the other semifinal between Chennai Super Kings and Kings XI Punjab turned into a lop-sided affair the formidable KXIP batting machine failed to function. Chasing 183 for victory, KXIP fell for 117 all out in the 19th over and lost the match by 65 runs.
In the first match at Hyderabad, Hobart Hurricanes’ captain Tim Paine abstained due to ill-health and they opened the innings with Ben Dunk and Dom Michael. As usual, Gambhir employed Yusuf Pathan and Andre Russell to open the bowling. While Dunk kept playing at the other end, he saw Michael and Aiden Blizzard fall for consecutive ducks in second and third overs respectively. Michael played a leading edge to a shorter ball from Russell, who plucked out a smart catch, diving to his right on his follow-through. In Pathan’s next over, Blizzard faced just the first delivery that skidded on his pads and though Blizzard got an inside edge, the umpire raised his finger. Meanwhile Dunk continued nonchalantly at the other end before he was gobbled up by Kuldeep Yadav for 39 off 29 balls. Hurricanes’ 54 off 10 overs was pretty poor for a side, aiming for a slot in the final. Next, Travis Birt fell to the wily Sunil Narine and Piyush Chawla claimed Wells as he attempted a big hit only to miss the ball that found his middle stump. For Hurricanes, only Shoaib Malik stood out amongst the flying pigeons. Malik made an unbeaten 66 off 46 balls with 4 fours and 4 sixes. Kuldeep Yadav had yielded only 10 runs in his first 3 overs but Malik spoiled his average by blasting 21 off his last and innings 19th over. Hurricanes could only reach 140/6 in 20 overs.
KKR too had a shaky start as Hurricanes thought of defending a small target. Ben Hilfenhaus and Doug Bollinger had the batsmen groping and in the 4th over, Gambhir’s flick off Bollinger went straight to short midwicket. Kallis replaced Gambhir and played a good knock. He began with 2 fours off Hilfenhaus in 5th over and belted Doherty for 10 in the next. But KKR lost Robin Uthappa in the 8th over to an over-optimistic improvisation but the yorker crashed on his middle stump. Kallis and Manish Pandey added 63 for third wicket in 8 overs before Pandey fell to Laughlin in 16th over. KKR didn’t lose any more wickets despite Hurricanes best efforts. There were some glitches but Yusuf Pathan and Jacques Kallis managed to cross the finish line with five balls to spare.
In the second match, KXIP won the toss and asked CSK to bat first. A good attack from KXIP resulted in Dwayne Smith, Brandon McCullum and Suresh Raina getting out by the 6th over. With CSK reeling at 41/3, Bravo, du Plessis and Ravindra Jadeja provided solidarity to the CSK innings to finish with 182/7 in 20 overs. In between Parvinder Awana created a mid-innings crisis by claiming a hat-trick. He had claimed Raina on the last ball of the sixth over before being taken off and when he came back to bowl the 17th over, he removed Negi with a perfect yorker and off the next ball, he got rid of MS Dhoni. From 141/6 at that stage, Bravo carried the score to 160/7 before falling to Akshar Patel. In the last few balls, Jadeja made a typically aggressive 27 off 13 and CSK ended with 182/7.
For a side with a reputation of overhauling big totals in their chases, 183 wasn’t so formidable for KXIP. But Thursday proved different as they succumbed against an unrelenting bowling performance from CSK. Ashish Nehra and Mohit Sharma bowled a great spell with a focus on accuracy rather than speed. They were ably supported in the field. McCullum’s catch of Sehwag was out-of-the-world. Then du Plessis snapped Manan Vohra and Wriddhiman Saha’s helmet was struck by a ball that ricocheted on his stumps. Soon KXIP were reeling at 34/6 in the 8th over with just David Miller holding on. It was a sordid performance after their forceful foray in the champions’ league thus far. Four batsmen fell for ducks and after most established batsmen went back, it was left to the bowlers Akshar Patel(31), Anureet Singh(16) and Karanveer Singh(17 not out) to take the score past the 100 mark. But for the trio’s total score of 64 runs, KXIP would have been in even more dire plight. With victory coming easily, CSK entered the final of another T20 game.