After this five-wicket win against Sunrisers Hyderabad, Kolkata can sneak into a top-two finish now if Chennai lose their final league match. © BCCI

After this five-wicket win against Sunrisers Hyderabad, Kolkata can sneak into a top-two finish now if Chennai lose their final league match. © BCCI

Kolkata Knight Riders marched into the playoffs of the Indian Premier League 2018 with a clinical five-wicket win against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Saturday (May 19), first restricting Hyderabad to 172 for 9 despite a rollicking start, with Prasidh Krishna (4 for 30) the star. They then reeled in the target in 19.4 overs with solid contributions from Chris Lynn (55 off 43) and Robin Uthappa (45 off 34), who both shared a 67-run stand in 9.3 overs.

By virtue of finishing the match when they did, Kolkata’s net run-rate rose to -0.07. They are still behind Chennai Super Kings, who have +0.220, but Kolkata can sneak into a top-two finish now if Chennai lose their final league match – against Kings XI Punjab on Sunday – by a sufficient margin. Hyderabad are already assured of a top-two finish, but they won’t be particularly happy about entering the playoffs with three straight losses.

Sunil Narine had given Kolkata a customary blitz at the top with 29 off just 10 balls, as the openers raised 52 in 3.4 overs, and with that platform set, all Kolkata needed was workmanlike sensible cricket to get to their target.

Narine had set the chase up beautifully, taking a shine to Sandeep Sharma and Siddarth Kaul, and smacking Shakib Al Hasan for a six and a four before falling to the left-arm spinner in attempting another boundary. But while he was unhappy at falling when he did, he had allowed Uthappa and Lynn the space to play out the inevitable quiet periods that the Hyderabad attack always induces during an innings.

But because Kolkata’s own bowlers, led by Prasidh, had pulled Hyderabad back magnificently, and Narine had turbo-charged the start, those quiet periods didn’t hurt Kolkata. Rashid Khan posed a threat but went wicketless, with his four overs costing 31 runs, of which ten came in his last three balls. Rashid could have had Uthappa for 11 off 14, but he had only himself to blame for failing to get under a steepling top edge and making a hash of the chance. Uthappa rubbed salt on Rashid’s wounds in his final over with a four and a six, to spoil the legspinner’s figures somewhat.

Both Lynn and Uthappa fell when set, and Hyderabad also prised out Andre Russell, while Nitish Rana fell with the scores level. But Dinesh Karthik, who had led the side well through the season and been a batting bulwark, was there till the end with a calm 26 not out off 22, and he hit the winning runs to signal entry into the playoffs in his first captaincy stint of an IPL side.

Earlier, the Hyderabad innings got off to a good start, and seemed headed into 200-plus territory when Kane Williamson was performing his recently perfected trick of seemingly only caressing the ball but rocketing along at run-rates that left everything else a blur. Williamson made only 36, but off just 17 balls. He seemed incapable of mistiming a shot, and even when he got out, he had made superb connection with a Javon Searles short one outside off – except that it was so sweetly hit it travelled straight to Russell at the point fence.

When Williamson got out, Hyderabad were 127 for 2 in 12.5 overs. After he left though, the innings faded away as the last 7.1 overs brought a mere 45 runs while seven wickets were lost. Shikhar Dhawan had been going along well as the second fiddle to Williamson, but he was starved of the strike after the skipper fell, which perhaps contributed to his own dismissal for a 39-ball 50. Hyderabad’s end-overs push was hurt by Manish Pandey’s continuing inability to force the pace, the batsman making only 25 off the 22 balls he faced.

Hyderabad had tried something new in their final league match, promoting Shreevats Goswami up the order, having benched Alex Hales, and also handed Carlos Brathwaite his first match of the season. Goswami didn’t always look comfortable against the pace that Russell generated, but batted fearlessly and more than did his job in making 35 off 26 and sharing in an opening stand of 79 in 8.4 overs. Williamson then arrived and upped the ante even more in a 48-run stand off just 4.1 overs, but after that, the Kolkata bowlers fought back. Prasidh got three wickets in the final over to end with 4 for 30, while Narine was also impressive in his 4-0-23-1.

In the end, the bowlers ensured Kolkata’s batsmen had a straightforward chase.