Rajasthan Royals v Royal Challengers Bangalore
Tuesday 19th May 2018
Sawai Mansingh Stadium , Jaipur

This was the ultimate contest. A ‘must win’ fixture like no other. To have any chance of making the top four and keep the emotional rollercoaster of our 2018 IPL journey on its tracks, only a comprehensive win would give us a glimmer of hope. Other results would also need to go our way for our dream to continue – but we had to do what we could do to give ourselves our best chance. What’s more, we had to do it without our star player of this tournament, Jos Buttler, who’d been asked to fly back to England for international duties. He’d been joined on the plane by our most expensive acquisition. Perhaps this would have been the match when he finally showed his undoubted quality with the bat – but it wasn’t to be.

The Rajasthan players ‘backs were to the wall’ – the pressure was on – there would be no second chance saloon. The importance of the occasion seemed to bring the best out of some of our stars who, up until now, had been somewhat quiet. Tripathi came to the party, Klaasen showed his class – with bat and gloves, and when the RCB chase started to threaten our total, it became a case of ‘Go Go Go Gopal’! As usual Gowtham also had a serious influence in proceedings at key moments and with all their help we achieved a 30–run win over the Royal Challengers Bangalore and kept themselves in the reckoning for a place in the Playoffs. Royals fans, players and management will be on tenterhooks for a while longer after this thrilling fixture, but who would want it any other way?

After the coin fell the right way for the Royals and Jinks elected to bat, Tripathi played the anchor with panache. Being back in his usual opener spot clearly suited him. It didn’t suit his new opening parter Jofra Archer though. Choosing Archer to open the battings with Tripathi was a mistake, Jofra has been out of touch all tournament, why would that change against the new ball? Pinch hitters rarely work – but if this experiment was to be attempted in such an important fixture, shouldn’t Gowthan have been elevated to the first pair? He has been on fire and seeing the ball like an oversized ripe melon to be smashed – for Archer, who’s been amazing with the ball in hand, the ball when he’s batting has resembled a grape and he’s had a sequence of ducks. That sequence was extended against RCB and the Royals had the worst of starts.

There were a couple overs with only a few runs scored – and along with the loss of Jofra, it was a quiet opening to the innings which had the Royals fans worried. We needed to win and we needed to win big to boost our Net Run Rate and increase our chances in the shake down. This wasn’t the way to achieve that goal.

However, Tripathi then announced his intent with a six off Moeen Ali over backward square-leg. While Rahane coming in at three milked the opponents, Tripathi helped build the momentum by scoring quicker runs off the RCB attack. The skipper played watchfully and carefully kept the scoreboard ticking. He held up one end while Tripathi at the other end attacked the bowlers with gusto. After the departure of Rahane, again out to an uncharacteristic shot across the line, Tripathi forged useful partnerships with Klaasen and Gowtham and built on the earlier decent platform to lift the team to a solid total.

Tripathi completed an unbeaten and highly effective 80 run knock, Heinrich Klaasen upped the ante with his 21-ball 32 and a typical Gowtham (14 off 5) late onslaught boosted the total further. The icing on the cake were two spectacular sixes from ‘The Mighty G’ which gave the Royals significant momentum going into the mid match break between innings. Suddenly the Royals total was a bit above par rather than a bit below it – game on!

RCB got off to a quick start – Archer coming in for some early punishment. The tall West Indian was having a rare bad day at the office and was sent for two sixes off short balls down to third man. At 20 for one in the third over, Patel joined AB de Villiers in the middle and with the latter looking in particularly ominous form, RCB started to accelerate towards the target and emerge as favourites to win this match. But the AB de V / Patel stand was ended by Shreyas Gopal, who then wrecked the middle-order to send RCB spiralling to destruction. Shreyas Gopal’s spell of 4 wickets for 16 runs decisively shifted the balance in our favour. Klaasen’s superb glove work complemented the bowler’s efforts in pegging back the visitors. The spinner’s double-blow in the ninth over – accounting for Patel and Ali left RCB wobbling.

Klaasen was keeping magnificently – he must have mastered his spinners’ variations rapidly in the nets. When the opportunity arose he ripped off the bails to send back his opposite number Parthiv – while Ali was done in by the googly and the bowler took a return catch. In his next over, the bowler had Mandeep Singh stumped. In his following over, Gopal got the key wicket of de Villiers, who was fighting a lone battle. The hard-hitting batsman was done in by the wrong one and a brilliant piece of stumping by the wicketkeeper left RCB wobbling on 98 for six. Losing A B de V meant RCB’s hopes of winning this match, and surviving in this tournament themselves, were hanging by a thread.

Ben Laughlin removed Sarfaraz Khan and Umesh Yadav to put us further in the driver’s seat and then Jaydev Unadkat accounted for Tim Southee and Mohammed Siraj to get the car nicely home and into the garage. Victory by 30 runs – how good that felt, and what a treat for our fans winning our last fixture at home.

It was a tough choice between Tripathi, Klaasen and Gopal for man of the match as they all performed spectacularly , but in the end the spinner won it for his amazing stats of 4 wickets for 16 runs which turned the game on it head.

The Royals complete the tournament totally even stevens – won 7 lost 7 – with a so so Net Run Rate just the wrong side of 0. Today we need our old rivals Mumbai to lose away to Delhi and Chennai to beat Kings XI – or at least not to lose by too many. What a thrilling and nerve wracking day of cricket it could prove to be…

So it’s Sweaty Sunday – will the other teams we need to lose lose and will the teams we need to win win? Will Net Run Rates favour us or another outfit? Only time will tell… but after the excitement we have provided for the tournament so far, the thrills and spills and ‘never say die’ attitude, then for sheer entertainment value, there can be little doubt that millions of neutrals around the world will be hoping our adventure continues…

Halla Bol!

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