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Kings XI Punjab v Rajasthan Royals
Sun 06th May 2018
Indore – Holkar Cricket Stadium

At the Holkar Cricket Stadium on Sunday night, the Royals were looking to make it to ten wins overall against Kings XI having defeated them nine times previously in their history. However, Rajasthan’s bad luck started early – skipper Rahane losing the toss and being asked to bat – and didn’t improve as the evening progressed.

Opening up with an Aussie / England combination, this time D’Arcy Short joining the in form Jos Buttler at the top of the order, Rajasthan again lost an early wicket, Short perishing to the bowling of Ashwin for just 2 runs. Sadly, the Australian is yet to reproduce his spectacular Big Bash form and time is running out. Batting at Number 3 for the first time in quite a while, Ajinkya didn’t last long either, falling to a low down catch by Chris Gayle off the bowling of Patel. It was so low down the umpires referred it to the TV Umpire, who took an age to decide that the ball had been cleanly taken before touching the turf. A similar deliberation later in the game would go against the Royals – and arguably cost them the match – it is indeed a game of fine margins.

Despite losing partners at regular intervals, Jos was seeing the ball well – striking it to all parts of the ground. The England international scored five boundaries in the first three overs. His second scoring stroke of the innings was a superb cover drive off Ravichandran Ashwin. In the next over, he hit Ankit Rajpoot for three boundaries – two pull shots to midwicket and a cut to send the ball to the point boundary. In the following over, he made room for himself and drove Mujeeb through extra cover. The Royals opener was 29 from 20 balls at the end of the six over powerplay. He slowed down a touch after that, but continued to look good.

Jos was given a second chance when he successfully reviewed being caught allegedly LBW in front of the sticks and proceeded to cash in. Unfortunately, his team mates didn’t thrive however. Sanju Samson, batting at four, looked good for a while, making 28 from 23 balls before he picked out deep square-leg and Ben Stokes was caught to miracle combo catch at long on. The Big Brit made 12 from 9 balls – hopefully he will fire on all cylinders and preserve his wicket for long enough to score big soon. When Jos went for 51 – out foxed by Mujeeb Al Rahman and caught behind – there was a mini collapse and a danger at one point that the Royals could be all out for fewer than 130. However, Shreyas Gopal, batting at nine, contributed an unbeaten 24 (made from 16 balls) which helped us to a below par but respectable total of 152 for 9.

To build a big innings in cricket you need strong partnerships, but there were only two of note in the RR innings; Buttler dominated the 32-run second-wicket partnership with Ajinkya Rahane, and then added 49 with Samson for the third wicket. Among the KXIP bowlers, Mujeeb ur Rahman and Andrew Tye returned five wickets between them, while Axar was the most economical bowler, conceding only 21 runs in his four overs. Ankit Rajpoot and Ravichandran Ashwin chipped in with a wicket each.

To have a chance of winning, the Royals needed to dispatch Punjab dangerman Chris Gayle early – and Archer did exactly that with his searing pace clearly unsettling the veteran West Indies star. Mayank Agarwal also went early and the Royals sniffed blood. KL Rahul then dropped anchor and took it upon himself to finish the job. The Karnataka batsman was 18 from 15 at the end of the first six overs and batted solidly throughout the innings.

Karun Nair contributed a useful 31 in the middle overs for KXIP; his 23-ball knock contained two fours and as many sixes. He was timing the ball brilliantly and looked good for a big score, until he attempted to pull a short delivery – which was wide outside off stump, but only managed to drag the ball back onto his stumps. Marcus Stoinis also played a useful hand. He walked out to bat in the thirteenth over, and announced himself in the following over by hitting the leg-spinner Shreyas Gopal out of the ground.

With KXIP needing 43 off the last four overs, Rahul switched gears. The fourth ball of the sixteenth, he upper cut a short delivery from Archer for six – in the process bringing up his half-century. In the following over, he hit a flat six off Jaydev Unadkat, and followed that up by making room and flaying the ball through the point region. In the nineteenth over, Rahul feasted on the pace of Archer yet again; he first got under a 147kph length ball and hit it straight over the bowler’s head and into the sightscreen. One ball later, he drove one into the extra cover boundary. Rahul finished unbeaten on 84 – his highest score in the IPL. It was a match winning knock that contained seven fours and three sixes.

However, just before Rahul started to accelerate, he appeared to be caught low down at point. On TV review, the ‘umpire in the box’ came to the conclusion that the ball had just touched the ground before being snaffled and the Kings star survived to see his team home – those fine margins working against the Royals yet again. Had that decision gone the other way, two new batsmen would have been at the crease with quite a few runs to score in not very much time – the final result could have been very different.

A crucial factor Iin the match was the Rajasthan batsmen struggling to counter the bowling of Mujeeb ur Rahman. He returned career-best figures of 3-27. The mystery spinner from Afghanistan opened his tally with the big wicket of Ben Stokes, who was at the receiving end of that relay catch at long-off. He then had the well-set Buttler edging one to wicket-keeper, and castled Archer the very next ball with an unplayable delivery. Jofra was out to a Jaffa and he couldn’t believe his bad luck getting a delivery like that first up.

For us, the wickets were shared by four bowlers. K Gowtham was the most economical bowler, returning figures of 3-0-18-1. Jofra Archer successfully set up and dismissed Gayle, but was taken for runs after that with the batsmen using his extreme pace to propel the ball to and over the fence. Archer conceded 43 runs in his 3.4 overs. Anureet Singh and Ben Stokes picked up a wicket each. Jaydev Unadkat, who has had a difficult tournament so far, bowled three good overs with excellent variations (conceding just 11 runs), but was taken for 15 runs in his final over.

To make the play offs, Rajasthan can’t afford any more slip ups – we need to string together a winning sequence fast. We have the talent to start a successful streak – but to achieve that a number of players need to come to the party and deliver all at the same time. That scenario is very much possible – and how wonderful it would be to see it happen.

Halla Bol boys, Halla Bol!

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