Brief Scores: Punjab Kings 197/4 (20 overs) beat Rajasthan Royals 192/7 (20 overs)

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It was not the start to life in Guwahati that Rajasthan Royals hoped for as they succumbed to a five-run loss to Punjab Kings at the Barsapara Cricket Stadium on Wednesday.

Opting to bowl on a flat deck, the Royals' bowlers found it hard to restrict a free-scoring Punjab team that posted a daunting 197/4 in their 20 overs. In reply, the Men in Pink pushed hard and kept themselves in the match till the very end, but it wasn’t enough.

Despite the result, skipper Sanju Samson inspired many with his knock of 42 while Caribbean showman Shimron Hetmyer (36) and ‘Impact Player’ Dhruv Jurel (32*) left a lasting impression with some fearless batting at the death. Earlier, R Ashwin (1-25) and Jason Holder (2-29) displayed some top-notch bowling under pressure to keep the Royals in the fight till the latter half of the innings.

Here are some of the encouraging signs from the match:

Skipper Sanju shows the way

Chasing a huge target, the Rajasthan batters meant business from the word go with Yashasvi Jaiswal smacking Sam Curran for a maximum of the first ball of the innings. But the pressure soon had the better of the young Indian as he was dismissed in the second over. 

While Ashwin - a surprise opener for the evening - and Jos Buttler also perished inside the powerplay, Sanju stood tall and took the attack to the opposition in his style. His elegant drives and late cuts were a delight to the eye while his power hits entertained the crowd as he became the highest run scorer for the franchise.

Samson’s cameo set the platform for Hetmyer and Jurel to follow as the two stitched a crucial partnership in the final overs to breathe life into the contest. Hetmyer’s 36 came at a strike rate of 200, while the 22-year-old Jurel didn’t hesitate to use the long handle as he announced himself on the big stage with a fiery knock.

Ashwin, Holder hold the fort

Earlier, the Royals’ plan was clear; restrict the Punjab batters to a total as low as possible and then trust their deep batting line-up to see them through - a plan in which they almost succeeded.

Though the Kings began their innings in an impressive manner with both Shikhar Dhawan and Prabhsimran Singh launching an all-out attack on the Rajasthan bowlers, Ashwin and Holder stood out for the home side with some tight bowling. 

Ashwin was the most impressive of the Royals’ bowlers, giving away just 25 runs in his four overs. He also sent Sikandar Raza packing with a classic carrom ball that had the Zimbabwe international flummoxed.

Ashwin’s flight and guile were matched by the pace and bounce of Holder who displayed some controlled bowling, especially in the death, to restrict the Kings to below 200.

The West Indian kept a tight line and forced the batters to earn their runs against him. Coming in for his second spell in the 18th over, Holder was brilliant against Dhawan and Shahrukh Khan. He even dismissed the latter with a full delivery that angled across the right-hander and found its way into the hands of Buttler who took a smart catch running in from long on.

Royal touch in the field

Rajasthan’s bowling brilliance was complemented by the fielders who put their bodies on the line for the team’s cause. Be it Jaiswal at deep square who kept a Prabhsimran shot at bay with some quality work or be it Buttler and Riyan Parag who displayed their fielding prowess, there were enough positives for the Royals’ camp to take away.

But it was Buttler who set the stage alight with a brilliant catch to dismiss the 22-year-old Prabhsimran. The Punjab batter looked to slap a Holder’s bouncer but ended up slicing it which Jos caught after covering a fair distance running in from long-off and throwing himself onto the ball to complete a fantastic catch.

Parag, meanwhile, started off by holding on to a straightforward catch to hand Yuzvendra Chahal his 171st wicket in the IPL as he went past our bowling coach Lasith Malinga to become the second-highest wicket-taker in the league. Later, the Assam player - playing in front of his home crowd - threw himself around to stop certain boundaries much to the delight of the home crowd.