Skipper Dinesh Karthik and Andre Russell helped Kolkata Knight Riders knock Rajasthan Royals out of this cricket season's Indian Premier League with a 25-run win in the eliminator on Wednesday.
Karthik, who made 52, and Russell, who smashed 49 not out, helped Knight Riders to 169-7, a total their bowlers defended by restricting Royals to 144-4 at Kolkata's Eden Gardens.
Leg-spinner Piyush Chawla claimed two wickets including dangerman Sanju Samson for 50 to choke Royals out of the do-or-die contest of the cash-rich Twenty20 tournament.
Skipper Ajinkya Rahane, who made 46, and Samson put on 62 runs for the second wicket as Royals' chase looked on course at 109-1. But Rahane's wicket spelt trouble for the 2008 champions.
Left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav, who got Rahane caught and bowled, returned excellent figures of 1-18 to keep Knight Riders alive in the title race.
"We were initially under the pump, so good on us to come back," Karthik said in the post-match presentation. "Andre was just special. In these kinds of games, the score doesn't matter, it's about believing."
"The bowlers have picked their game and have bowled some good balls... Every game is important at this stage. Next game, two good teams competing," the wicketkeeper-batsman added.
Two-time champions Knight Riders will now meet Sunrisers Hyderabad in the second qualifier in Kolkata on Friday to try and book a title clash with Chennai Super Kings.
Royals off-spinner Krishnappa Gowtham got two early wickets to rattle Knight Riders' top-order as the home side were reduced to 51-4 after being put into bat first.
Pacemen Jofra Archer and Ben Laughlin also picked up two wickets each to hurt Knight Riders batting but Karthik and Russell took the attack to the opposition bowling. Karthik, who hit his second fifty of this season's IPL, put together a fifth-wicket 55-run partnership with Shubman Gill, who made 28 to steady the innings.
Russell soon took over from his captain to smash three fours and five sixes during his 25-ball blitz to give the hosts 55 runs in the last five overs.
"Disappointed, especially given how we started, taking 4-5 wickets early. That partnership (between Karthik and Gill) and the dropped catch of Russell hurt us," said Rahane."I think KKR bowled really well. They know the conditions really well... It's important to finish the games and we didn't have partnerships towards the end," he added.
The IPL final is on May 27 at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium with $4 million going to the winner.