The happy ever-after fairytale ending to the league phase campaign that Kings XI Punjab were expecting slipped through their fingers, literally, in Dharamsala. Their rise from the dead has been the story of the IPL so far, but they crumbled in the field in a must-win game to crash out of contention. It was dropped catches galore, spiced up with misfields and missed run-outs that let the Deccan Chargers openers, Shikhar Dhawan and D Ravi Teja, deliver just the kind of a partnership that would lift the spirits of a struggling team in its final game this season - Amit Mishra did his own bit with a hat-trick - and put the task beyond Punjab's batsmen. The defeat for the hosts meant Chennai Super Kings, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders have qualified for the play-offs.
The first over set the tone for the day. There was encouragement for Praveen Kumar from the track, with the ball moving both ways, but there wasn't much the bowlers could do to pick wickets when not backed up by their fielders. Ryan McLaren missed an attempt to run out Shikhar Dhawan first ball and Ravi Teja was dropped by Paul Valthaty in the deep off a wild heave moments later. Both chances were difficult, yet manageable, and proved decisive in the outcome.
The opening bowlers, Praveen and Ryan Harris, erred in line, particularly against Dhawan, who comfortably picked them off through square leg and fine leg for boundaries. While Dhawan looked determined to bat through, it was Ravi Teja's responsibility to maintain the high tempo that was set early. Dhawan focused on the gaps, with timing and power enabling him to pierce them with ease, while Ravi Teja went over the top, accomplishing the task he was sent out for, albeit with much fortune.
Streaky as he was, Ravi Teja sent Punjab's frustration levels soaring. He survived a run-out in the 11th over - umpire Asad Rauf didn't call for a replay - and edged the next two balls of McLaren to the third-man boundary. He was dropped by Harris the next over, and proceeded to launch Piyush Chawla for two massive sixes in an over that yielded 20 runs. By the time he was finally caught, he had smashed 60 when he should have been dismissed for a duck.
Having fed on tripe bowled on the pads, Dhawan drove Harris twice for boundaries through the off, then ceded floor to Ravi Teja and took the lead once again following his dismissal. His intentions were clear right after the second time-out, as he slog-swept Piyush Chawla and Bhargav Bhatt, and scarred Harris further in his return spell with consecutive fours, including one that almost decapitated the man at the non-striker's end, Cameron White. His first six, predictably in the slog overs, was over cow-corner but he was unfortunate to miss out on three figures, not being able to farm much of the strike from then on.
Punjab had opted for a change in strategy, opting to chase, leaving some a little surprised particularly since Adam Gilchrist had scored a blistering ton at the same venue after batting first in their previous game. The pressure of a big target, despite the friendly surface and the small boundaries, was too difficult a challenge. Paul Valthaty perished in the second over, Shaun Marsh smashed JP Duminy for successive boundaries but was caught on the third attempt, edging to short third man. Gilchrist stood in the way and there was hope when he launched Anand Rajan over extra cover and slog-swept Pragyan Ojha into the stands.
Unlike Punjab, though, Deccan caught well, and when Gilchrist drove Daniel Christian straight to Cameron White in the 11th over, the game was decided. Mishra got into the act, his first wicket, that of McLaren, a product of an excellent diving catch by Christian in the deep. Mandeep Singh swung and missed to be stumped the next ball, and Harris edged a googly straight to second slip. The element of suspense Punjab brought to a mostly predictable tournament was over.