Kolkata Knight Riders made a strong statement in Cuttack on Sunday where, led by Gautam Gambhir's 63 not out, they beat the high-flying Kings XI Punjab comprehensively by 9 wickets after KKR bowlers limited the red-hot KXIP batting line-up to an average 149.
Gambhir added 68 runs for the opening wicket with Robin Uthappa (46) and then stitched an unbeaten 82-run stand with Manish Pandey (36 not out) as Kolkata raced to their fourth victory with 12 balls to spare.
Credit should also be given to KKR legspinner Piyush Chawla (3/19) for his brilliant bowling in the middle overs that restricted Punjab to a modest total after Virender Sehwag had set the tone for Punjab with a 50-ball 72.
KKR are now No. 4 on the points table with 8 points, behind Kings XI Punjab, Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals respectively.
It's been a roller coaster ride for Gambhir who started the tournament with a hat-trick of ducks and now has completed a hat-trick of half-centuries. He now has 23 half-centuries across seven IPL editions - maximum by any player till date.
Gambhir changed his approach letting Uthappa dominate in the beginning and played himself in before going for the attack. Uthappa continued in blazing form as he hit a flurry of boundaries in the Powerplay overs with skipper Gambhir holding one end up.
The floodgates opened in the third over bowled by Sandeep Sharma in which Uthappa got three boundaries: a flick, followed by two lovely drives.
The next over from Mitchell Johnson was even better as Uthappa started with a pulled six. The shot was mistimed but had enough meat to carry it over the ropes. It was followed by three punchy boundaries as 19 came of that particular over. The Powerplay yielded 55 runs and by then KKR had won half the battle.
Earlier, Virender Sehwag showed glimpses of his usual attacking self during his knock of 72 but Punjab had a rare batting collapse as they managed a below-par 149 for 8.
KKR captain Gambhir's decision to field was vindicated by his bowlers. While Sehwag's 50-ball-72 was the highlight of the Kings innings, the failure of the middle-order, once Maxwell was dismissed, became apparent.
Gambhir's decision to include Morne Morkel (2/20) and Chawla in the playing XI was justified as they picked five wickets for 49 runs in eight overs between them.
Sehwag has been consistently getting starts and on Sunday he got a much deserved half-century. His innings was studded with 11 fours and a six.
It couldn't have been a better start for the Kings XI as the 'Nawab of Najafgarh' started by blasting Kallis for four boundaries in the first over of the match. A cover drive off the first ball set the tone and it was followed by a clip towards square leg and couple of shots behind the square.
Mandeep Singh (0) tried to slash one off Morkel and gave a simple catch to Robin Uthappa behind stumps. Wriddhiman Saha (15) joined Sehwag who went about on his boundary spree. He was, however, dropped on 23 when he pushed hard at a Morkel delivery and the glovesman couldn't pouch on to the delivery.
Saha hit a couple of boundaries off Yadav before Morkel bowled him with an in-cutter but there was no stopping Sehwag.
There were some streaky edges in between but he did hit some audacious strokes. A straight six off Kallis reminded Sehwag of the old as he completed his 50 off 35 balls.
Maxwell (14) didn't fire on Sunday as he holed out at deep square leg, trying to slog sweep Chawla. Sehwag was finally out when he tried to hoist a Chawla googly which stayed low and hit the off-stump.
Once Sehwag was gone, it sparked a sudden collapse as the dangerous David Miller (13) saw his middle stump uprooted by Yadav. From 87 for two, it suddenly became 120 for five. It got worse when Rishi Dhawan tried to sweep across the line and was bowled in the process.
(With PTI inputs)