And then there were three. The Royal Challengers are already in Bengaluru waiting to discover their opponents for the IPL grand finale on 29 May. It will certainly not be the Kolkata Knight Riders though, after they were beaten by Sunrisers Hyderabad by 22 runs on Wednesday. The team from Hyderabad will now face the formidable Gujarat Lions for a place in the final.
For Hyderabad, it was a triumph of their middle-order batting; their fielding was also sharp, and bowling at the death was as reliable as it has been for much of this season. By the time they wake up on Thursday, Sunrisers would have already started planning for their semi-final encounter against the Lions.
In earning a hard-fought win over KKR, the team from Telangana ticked several boxes that had gone unchecked in the final stages of the league phase, earning their ticket to the second qualifier on 27 May.
The team was coming off a couple of stinging losses and were clearly dealing with the devil in their head, as they took first use of the strip inside a packed Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium in Delhi.
After scoring a couple of boundaries off Morne Morkel, Shikhar Dhawan was in the mood for a hat-trick of fours. The ground in Delhi is nearly 30 yards shorter towards square the end and Dhawan moved away to make room, leaving Morkel to slip one through and unsettle the stumps. The wicket had just enough juice, and the departure of Dhawan in the second over pushed the Sunrisers on the back foot. David Warner and Moises Henriques soldiered on through the next eight overs, managing just 59 runs between them.
Kuldeep Yadav was proving difficult to read and the two men perished off successive balls in the 10th over. Sunrisers were stuck in the mud at 71-3 halfway through their innings. One of the big problems for them this season has been the lack of meaningful contributions from their middle-order. Yuvraj Singh found just the perfect occasion to underline his prominence in the T20 format with a forceful 30-ball 44 to add much needed meat to the Sunrisers’ score. Despite the early stutter, the Sunrisers looked set for a roaring finish while Deepak Hooda was firing away in Yuvraj’s company. But an unnecessary misunderstanding cost them an untimely wicket, when Hooda was run-out by an alert Kuldeep Yadav.
That is when the middle-order found the perfect opportunity to fire. While Dhawan and Warner combined to score 38 runs off as many balls, Henriques, Yuvraj and Hooda put up 96 in 64 balls — at a time when they needed them the most. Bipul Sharma then struck a couple of lusty blows in the end to get the target over the 160-mark.
Sunrisers isn’t a team built on stars; it is a cobbling together of journeymen pros who have proven time and again that the sum of the whole is greater than its parts. Warner could not have asked for a better time for the middle-order to start firing, as they forced their way into the finals.
Once on the field, the Sunrisers were inspired by a couple of acts that stirred belief in the team, shaken a little by a total that felt 20 short on a slightly tricky, yet harmless Kotla wicket. First, it was Yuvraj who got into the thick of the action, firing a pinpoint throw with just one stump to aim at. This sent Colin Munro off the field. Bhuvneshwar Kumar then ran in and threw himself forward to send Yusuf Pathan back to the dug-out.
In a match that seemed destined to end in favour of the Knight Riders, these two critical moments turned the tide towards the Sunrisers.
The only real blot came in the 15th over when Mustafizur Rahman put down a dangerous Suryakumar Yadav, but his dismissal in the next over ensured minimal impact off that spill. With four overs left to go, the Knight Riders needed 47. But the crack duo of Mustafizur and Bhuvneshwar combined yet again to produce a disciplined spell of death bowling to choke the team from Kolkata out of the competition.
It was a classic Sunrisers victory, scored through a combination of good batting by the middle-order, disciplined bowling by its frontline bowlers and some outstanding work in the field. They will need more of the same when they take on the Lions for a place in Sunday’s final.
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