They were cheering all the way from Cape Town to Dhaka, from Haryana to Bengal to Kolkata, as the Knight Riders snatched a thrilling five-wicket victory over the Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League final at the Chidambaram Stadium in Chepauk on Sunday.
Chennai, the two-time defending champions, looked well beaten despite defending 191 as Manvinder Bisla of Haryana, and Jacques Kallis, Cape Town’s finest, added 136 for the second wicket in 13.4 overs.
But with Bisla outfoxed by Albie Morkel for a scintillating 89 off 48 balls, announcing himself as a great talent, and Kallis, laid low by cramps, falling for 69 in the penultimate over, Kolkata needed 16 off seven balls as the Super Kings staged a fantastic fightback.
But Bangladeshi star Shakib al-Hasan, who may well be the new best all-rounder in the world once Kallis retires, scored seven runs off the last ball of the over as Ben Hilfenhaus bowled a no-ball for height and Dhaka’s hero then innovated with a scoop for four off the extra delivery.
Manoj Tiwary, one of the new generation of Indian batting stars, then struck two fours in the final over to clinch victory with two balls to spare and spark massive celebrations in his home state of Bengal.
Chasing such a daunting target, Kolkata seemed to have suffered a mortal blow in the first over when captain Gautam Gambhir missed with a rash swish across the line and was bowled by Hilfenhaus for just two.
But Bisla showed he was equipped to play a match-winning innings on the big stage. Brought in to replace seasoned New Zealand international Brendon McCullum, because Brett Lee had to return to boost the bowling attack after Lakshmipathy Balaji failed to recover from a hamstring injury, he showed enormous self-belief against the Goliaths of the IPL and an international-strength attack.
It was David’s night as everything Bisla tried came off, the 27-year-old hammering eight fours and five sixes. He was helped immeasurably by having the experienced Kallis at his side, the South African showing great skill in placing the ball in the gaps and giving Bisla the strike.
And once Bisla cut a slower-ball bouncer from Morkel to backward point in the 15th over, with 52 runs still needed, Kallis knew he had to step up and take over the aggressor’s role.
Playing superb strokes all over the park, Kallis went to town against the bowling of Dwayne Bravo in particular as he kept the Knight Riders in the game.
Laxmi Ratan Shukla swung straight to deep midwicket to give Bravo the consolation of a wicket, while Yusuf Pathan sliced a slog-sweep off off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin to fall for just a single.
Hilfenhaus was very happy when he ended Kallis’s 49-ball innings by having him caught by the cover-sweeper in the 19th over, but that soon turned to heartache.
And then Bravo, left to defend nine runs in the final over, did not seem to know whether to bowl short or full and was punished as a result.
Tiwary punched successive boundaries through the leg-side and the IPL trophy was in the box for Kolkata, giving movie star owner Shah Rukh Khan some reward at last.
Hilfenhaus had bowled brilliantly up front to put the Knight Riders under early pressure and finished with225 in his four overs, while Morkel bowled an outstanding spell of two overs, 1-12, in the closing stages to drag Chennai back into the contest.
But the other Super Kings bowlers failed to back up the new-ball pair, with Bravo (3.4-0-49-1) and spinners Shadab Jakati (4-0-38-0) and Ashwin (4-0-41-1) failing to adapt to a flat pitch.
Suresh Raina had earlier blasted the Kolkata Knight Riders bowlers all over the park as he led the Chennai Super Kings to a commanding 190 for three.
On an easy-paced pitch, all the Chennai batsmen looked comfortable with Murali Vijay (42), Mike Hussey (54) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni (14* off 9 balls) all contributing in an exceptional display by the top-order.
Raina’s scintillating 73 off 38 balls merely increased the pressure on the Kolkata bowlers after openers Vijay and Hussey had plundered 86 runs in 10 overs.
Hussey, normally the accumulator, did not sit back on this grand occasion, galloping to his 50 off 38 balls, with four fours and two sixes and some wonderfully clever strokeplay and manipulation of the field.
With Vijay conducting a similarly brutal assault on the bowling, picking up four fours and a six off 32 balls, the runs kept flowing for Chennai as the first wicket put on 87 off just 64 balls.
Vijay fell in the 11th over to a beautifully-judged, diving catch on the square-leg boundary by Shakib, giving medium-pacer Rajat Bhatia his only wicket.
But that brought Raina to the crease and that’s when life really became busy for the stats men.
The chunky left-hander smashed five sixes, four of them over midwicket, and three fours as he added 73 for the second wicket with Hussey off just 41 deliveries and made his highest score in this year’s IPL.
Kallis bowled Hussey in the 18th over, but the inspired Raina batted on until the last ball, which he slog-swept off the bottom of the bat, Brett Lee having to dash in sharply from cow-corner to get the ball in his hands.
The wicket was just reward for left-arm spinner Shakib, who conceded just eight runs in the final over.
Shakib and Bhatia both bowled just three overs, conceding 25 and 23 runs respectively, while the other wicket-taker, Kallis, was also reasonably tidy, conceding 34 runs in his four overs.
But key bowlers Sunil Narine and Lee were less successful with ball in hand, conceding 37 and 42 runs respectively in their four overs.