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Skipper KL Rahul struck a well-paced half-century to help Punjab Kings beat Kolkata Knight Riders by five wickets in a thrilling encounter in the IPL 2021 here on Friday, moving to fifth position and maintaining their chances of making it to the knockout rounds.

Both teams needed a win -- the KKR more so as it would have pushed them to 12 points from 12 games and closer to a place in the top four. But it was not to be as Punjab (10) won the match and reached the fifth position, moving ahead of Mumbai Indian (10) on better Net Run Rate. This win means that the Delhi Capitals are assured of a place in the knockouts with Punjab, KKR, and Mumbai Indian on 10 points and fighting for the final qualifying spot.

Punjab restricted KKR for 165/7 in their 20 overs despite a superb 67 by opener Venkatesh Iyer and a quick 31 off 18 deliveries by Nitesh Rana, with some good bowling in the middle overs, and came back to reach 168/5 in 19.3 overs capitalising on a few dropped catches by their opponents. Punjab too lost their way a bit in the middle overs on a slow track but Rahul managed the innings well and helped them keep their noses ahead. Punjab were also helped by a debatable decision on a diving catch by Rahul Tripathi by the third umpire. A wicket at that time would have made things very difficult for Punjab. Rahul was eventually out, caught by Shivam Mavi off Iyer with Punjab needing four runs to win off as many deliveries. Shahrukh Khan (22 off 9 balls) blasted the next ball over the infield and the fielder spilled it over the rope and Punjab won the match.

Rahul and his opening partner Mayank Agarwal gave the team a great start -- with Agarwal capitalising on an early life -- as Punjab chased down the target after asking KKR to bat first. Rahul anchored the innings while Agarwal went for his shots as they raised 70 runs for the opening stand. Agarwal, who struck three big sixes after being put down by Eoin Morgan when he had not yet scored a run, was caught by Morgan, incidentally, off Varun Chakravarthy.

Punjab lost a couple of wickets, Nicolas Pooran (12), Aiden Markram (18), and Deepak Hooda (3) getting out early but Rahul found a good partner in the big-hitting Shahrukh Khan and they pushed Punjab Kings across the line.

Earlier, after his partner Shubman Gill was out early, Venkatesh Iyer (67) hit some powerful shots to post his highest score in IPL in his fifth match but just when KKR, asked to bat first, were looking to dominate the match, Punjab Kings came back to claim some quick wickets in the middle overs to halt their progress. Nitish Rana struck some good blows in making 31 off 18 balls that proved crucial for KKR. Arshdeep Singh was the most successful Punjab bowler as he claimed 3/32 while Ravi Bishnoi picked 2/22 in his four overs as Punjab did well in the middle overs to restrict KKR which were looking for a score around 180.

KKR did their chances lot of harm by picking only four bowlers in order to get an extra batsman -- hoping that Venkatesh Iyer and Nitish Rana, who did well for them with the bat, will make good of the four overs. But the two batting-allrounder cost them 37 runs in 3.3 overs which in the end thwarted them.

Brief scores:

Kolkata Knight Riders: 165/7 in 20 overs (Venkatesh Iyer 67, Rahul Tripathi 34, Nitish Rana 31; Arshdeep Singh 3/32, Ravi Bishnoi 2/22) lost to Punjab Kings 168/5 in 19.3 overs (KL Rahul 67, Mayank Agarwal 40, Shahrukh Khan 22; Varun Chakravarthy 2/24).
 

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