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Pant's 'emotional' IPL return ends in loss as Russell shines

Master blaster: Kolkata Knight Riders' Andre Russell in action on Saturday (DIBYANGSHU SARKAR)
Master blaster: Kolkata Knight Riders' Andre Russell in action on Saturday (DIBYANGSHU SARKAR)

Rishabh Pant's "emotional" return to elite cricket Saturday after a horror car crash was clouded by Delhi Capitals' loss to Punjab Kings in the Indian Premier League.

Chasing 175 for victory, Punjab rode on England all-rounder Sam Curran's 47-ball 63 to achieve their target with four wickets and four balls to spare at IPL's newest venue at Mullanpur in the northern Indian state of Punjab.

In the second match of the day, Australia's Pat Cummins lost on his IPL debut as captain as Kolkata Knight Riders edged out Sunrisers Hyderabad by four runs in a thriller at Eden Gardens.

In match one, Punjab skipper Shikhar Dhawan began the chase with his brisk 22 before being bowled by fast bowler Ishant Sharma.

England's Jonny Bairstow had an unlucky dismissal when he was run out at the non-striker's end after the ball grazed bowler Ishant's finger and hit the stumps with the batsman short of his crease.

But the left-handed Curran went to his half-century and put on a key 67-run fifth-wicket stand with fellow Englishman Liam Livingstone, who hit the winning six in his 21-ball 38, to steer the team home.

Curran, who was dropped on 33 by Tristan Stubbs, fell in the 19th over as Khaleel Ahmed struck on successive balls but Livingstone kept calm to bring up victory.

The spotlight remained on India's Pant, 26, after the wicketkeeper-batsman took the field as captain of Delhi after 14 months away from top level cricket.

"Really emotional time for me," Pant said at the toss after Delhi were invited to bat first.

"Just want to enjoy the moment."

- 'Nervous' Pant -

Pant, an attacking left-handed batsman, got a standing ovation from the fans as he strode out to the middle after the fall of David Warner for 29.

Pant hit a flowing cover drive for a boundary in his brief stay before a slower delivery from Harshal Patel had him caught at backward point while attempting a ramp shot.

"Personally I was pretty nervous but you have to go through this when you enter the field," Pant said after the loss.

"This isn't the first time being nervous, but happy about that (return)."

Pant crashed his Mercedes north of New Delhi before dawn in December 2022, suffering multiple injuries when the car rammed into a crash barrier, flipped over and caught fire.

He was rushed to hospital before being airlifted to Mumbai for further treatment and surgery.

Pant has been on an intensive rehabilitation programme since the crash.

He was replaced as skipper of Delhi Capitals by Warner of Australia and the team ended ninth in the 10-team table last year.

- 'Tough guy' Russell -

In match two, Andre Russell hit an unbeaten 64 and took two wickets to trump Heinrich Klaasen's batting blitz of 63 in a high-scoring match.

Russell steered Kolkata to 208-7 with his 25-ball knock and a 81-run stand with Rinku Singh after England's Phil Salt began the batting charge with his 54.

Klaasen took on the chase in the final three overs with a flurry off sixes including hitting Mitchell Starc for three over the fence in a 26-ball 19th over.

But fast bowler Harshit Rana held his nerve to defend 13 in the final over after getting hit for a six on the first ball as he got two wickets including Klaasen.

It was heartbreaking for Cummins, who took charge of Hyderabad after the franchise paid $2.5 million for the 30-year-old fast bowler.

Fellow Australian pace bowler Starc broke the record in the same auction when Kolkata shelled out $2.98 million for the left-arm quick.

Starc endured a day to forget, however, getting hit for 53 runs off his four overs.

"You do your planning, and you try to execute your plans," said Australian World Cup-winning captain Cummins on trying to contain Russell.

"But he's a pretty tough guy to bowl to."

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