Cape Town: Kolkata Knight Riders' chances of making the semi-finals of the Champions League Twenty20 tournament suffered a major blow as they slumped to their second successive defeat after losing to Auckland Aces by seven wickets in a Group A match here on Monday.
Auckland rode high on veteran Azhar Mahmood's superb all-round show as they knocked off a modest target of 138 runs with 14 balls to spare. Mahmood, who was instrumental in restricting KKR to 137 for 6 with brilliant figures of 3 for 16, also produced an unbeaten knock of 51 runs, which turned out to be crucial in the final outcome of the match at the New Wanderers stadium. Apart from Mahmood, Lou Vincent (30), Martin Guptill (25) and Anaru Kitchen (24) also came up with useful contributions.
KKR captain Gautam Gambhir's decision to induct Shakib Al Hasan at the expense of seasoned Brett Lee backfired badly as the reigning IPL champions missed out a genuine paceman on a pitch that was assisting the faster bowlers. Brendon McCullum top-scored for the Knight Riders with a 35-ball 40, which was laced with two sixes and three fours. But the Knight Riders could not build partnerships and lost wickets in regular intervals.
Mahmood made inroads into the KKR's middle-order with his twin strike in the 10th over as he dismissed Jacques Kallis (0) and Manoj Tiwary (0) in successive deliveries to dent the Knight Riders innings, who after the early loss of Gautam Gambhir had tried to recover well.
Mahmood, in his second spell, removed dangerman McCullum to add to the misery of KKR, who came into this match after being crushed by Delhi Daredevils by 52 runs in their opening tournament fixture on Saturday. Mahmood was ably supported by Kyle Mills, Michael Bates and Ronnie Hira, who picked up a wicket apiece.
KKR were off to a bad start after electing to bat first as Gambhir's poor run in the tournament continued for the second straight match when Martin Guptill, diving to his left, took a stunning one-handed catch to dismiss the southpaw. The KKR skipper tried to work the ball towards the on side but only managed to get a leading edge off Michael Bates.
After the early loss of Gambhir (5), Bisla (38) and McCullum recovered well for KKR and put up a 62-run partnership to hold the innings steady. Bisla was caught by Kitchen off Ronnie Hira over long off in the ninth over. He struck six fours and a six in his 24-ball stay at the crease. As things looked settling down in favour of the Kolkata team, Mahmood came up with a dream spell to break the backbone of KKR's middle-order.
KKR never recovered from the jolt and slumped to 98 for five in the 15th over. Yusuf Pathan and Rajat Bhatia then added 29 runs for the unbeaten seventh-wicket partnership to provide some respectability to the score.