The Telegraph
Sunday , May 25 , 2014
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It’s the Yusuf blast!

Calcutta: Like the knight in chess, Yusuf Pathan was the Knight in chase, at the floodlit Eden, on Saturday. He was unusual and he jumped over the tallest of hurdles to take the Kolkata Knight Riders to their destination.

For all the criticisms that the elder of the Pathan brothers had to put up with in the last few years, this was a performance that had the power to sweep away all disappointments.

Yusuf’s 72 runs from 22 balls is not something one sees very often, even if you have paid a fortune to get yourself a ticket. One has to be fortunate to see such awesome display of power hitting.

Adam Gilchrist held the record for the fastest IPL fifty — off 17 balls. When Yusuf mowed Dale Steyn over deep midwicket for the fifth six of his innings, he had reached 50 in 15 balls.

The Knight Riders won by four wickets. But that’s immaterial. That they chased down the 161-run target in 14.2 overs, six balls away from what was their deadline, was what mattered the most.

It took the Knights to the second position on the points table and earned them the right to play Qualifier 1 at their home ground, the Eden. The Knights finished with 18 points, the same as the Chennai Super Kings, but had a better net run rate — Knights +0.42; Super Kings +0.38.

The Knights had put all their faith in Yusuf at the auctions earlier this year despite him being branded a non-performer. Well, he repaid every bit of that with his out-of-the-world innings.

The Sunrisers were virtually out of the contest for the play-offs berth even before the Knights began their chase — they had to restrict the Knights to 23 to have a chance! But they could have still ended on a positive note with a victory. But as the Sunrisers coach Tom Moody said after the match, you are always the second best if your fielding side doesn’t support the bowlers.

Yusuf was dropped twice — first when he was yet to open his account and then again when he was on 15. Yusuf made most of those reprieves.

His seven sixes and five boundaries were all about power and reminded one of the inaugural edition of the IPL when the Baroda bomber had played a key role in the Rajasthan Royals’ triumph.

Yet at one stage, it didn’t look like the Knights would reach their goal. After 12 overs, they were 116 for five. To get the required net run rate, they needed 45 runs off 20 balls. Sunrisers captain Darren Sammy gave the ball to Dale Steyn. The odds stacked were heavily against the Knights.

But Yusuf had other plans. He clobbered the fiery South African pacer for two sixes and three fours, took a two off the last ball to plunder 26 runs off the 13th over.

The equation came down to 19 runs from 14 balls and the Knights knew that they were almost home. When Yusuf finally got out, his team needed just 8 runs off 9 balls. They didn’t falter.

Earlier, the Knights resided somewhere between good and ordinary to let the Sunrisers Hyderabad post 160/7. Good because they never let the Sunrisers batsmen take charge of the game totally, ordinary because of their awkward lapses, sometimes while fielding, sometimes while bowling.

The total would have been much lesser had Umesh Yadav not given away 17 runs in the 19th over. Sunil Narine and Shakib-al Hasan had bowled economically with the Sunrisers managing just 130 for five after the 18th over. But while 16th, 17th and 18th over saw just 4, 2 and 3 runs scored, respectively, 17 and 13 runs were scored off the 19th and the 20th over. That enabled the visitors post a healthier total.

Sunrsiers’ captain Darren Sammy was the most effective Sunrisers batsman with a 19-ball 29. Narine (0/19) and Shakib (1/25) were the top bowlers for the hosts.

The Knights had a mixed day as a fielding side. While they effected two well-executed run outs, they also dropped a couple of easy chances.

First it was Narine who let the ball slip between his hands at third man to give Venugopal Rao a life in the 14th over, then Yusuf Pathan dropped a dolly in front of the sight-screen in the very next over. The ball bounced off Yusuf’s hands and landed beyond the boundary to make it a six, with Sammy, the batsman, breaking into a smile.

Gambhir wasn’t smiling though. Luckily, his side didn’t have to pay dearly for the dropped chances as the Sunrisers did.

So it will be Kings XI Punjab versus the Knights in the Qualifier 1 on Tuesday. Or will it be Glenn Maxwell vs Yusuf Pathan?