Punjab opens up IPL playoff race with win over Kolkata

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SHARJAH, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Mandeep Singh and Chris Gayle smashed half centuries as Kings XI Punjab opened up the playoff race in the Indian Premier League with an eight-wicket win over Kolkata Knight Riders on Monday.

Punjab, which lost six of its first seven league games, broke into the top four with their fifth consecutive win and pushed Kolkata down to fifth. Both Punjab and Kolkata have 12 points from 12 games, but Punjab is ahead on net run-rate.

Singh, whose father died Friday, put the personal tragedy behind him and scored an unbeaten 66 off 56 balls, while Gayle bludgeoned five sixes and two fours in making 51 off 29 balls as Punjab reached 150-2 with seven balls to spare.

Earlier, fast bowlers Mohammed Shami grabbed 3-35 and Ravi Bishnoi claimed 2-20 with his sharp googlies and legbreaks to restrict Kolkata at 149-9.

“This was very special, my father always used to tell me you should remain not out in the game. This one is for him,” said Singh, who got an opportunity to open the innings in the absence of Mayank Agarwal. “Even if I scored a double hundred or a hundred, he used to ask me, ‘Why did you go out?’”

Singh had eight fours and two sixes.

Shami’s double strike in his first over had pegged Kolkata back to 10-3 as Dinesh Karthik went without scoring in his 300th Twenty20 game. Shubman Gill (57) and captain Eoin Morgan (40) counter-punched with an attacking 81-run stand before Bishnoi struck in the 10th over when Morgan was caught at deep backward square leg.

Kolkata lost wickets with regular intervals after Morgan departed and Gill also holed out at deep midwicket off a low Shami full toss in the penultimate over.

Punjab skipper Lokesh Rahul (28), who is the tournament’s leading run-scorer with 595 runs, provided a watchful start of 47 off 48 balls with Singh before legspinner Varun Chakravarthy trapped him lbw off a sharp googly.

But then it was all Gayle and Singh as the hard-hitting West Indian lofted Chakravarthy for successive sixes before thumping a straight six to fiery fast bowler Lockie Ferguson.

The batsmen shared a 100-run stand to seal the game before Gayle gloved a catch to Ferguson with only three needed for victory.

“Fingers crossed that we can win a few more games,” Rahul said. “The kind of toughness Mandeep has shown … everybody is emotional. Just to put his hand up, just to be there, just to finish off the game, makes us so proud.”

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