Rajasthan Royals came to the Eden Gardens at number 8 on the points table to face a struggling Kolkata Knight Riders. A lot was at stake for both teams, but it was a great team effort with some of our lower middle-order batsmen who saw us over the line in dramatic fashion. Jofra Archer sealed the victory with some gutsy shots in the final two overs. It was his final outing for Rajasthan Royals this season, and he ensured that he left with a memorable knock. Rajasthan Royals moved back to seventh spot on the points table and have 8 points against their name. The chances for the Playoffs are still alive with three more games remaining. After winning the toss, Steve Smith had no hesitation in electing to bowl. Rajasthan Royals shored up their pace attack by bringing in Varun Aaron and handing a Vivo IPL debut for Oshane Thomas. The duo replaced Ashton Turner and Dhawal Kulkarni in the playing XI, and responded instantly in the first few overs. Varun Aaron seemed in perfect rhythm from ball one. His pace was up, the swing was there, and his tail was up as he ran in to ball. Aaron got rid of the dangerous Chris Lynn in the first over itself, getting one to nip back in. Lynn looked to slash hard, but got a thick inside edge that ran on to the stumps. Oshane shared the new ball and ran in with equal aplomb from the other end. For the batsmen, it may have appeared like a giant steaming and charging towards them. Hitting the deck hard, Oshane made life very difficult for Nitish Rana and Shubman Gill. Varun Aaron bowled an absolute beauty, perhaps the ball of the season, to castle Shubman Gill. The ball landed in the corridor around off stump, and jagged back in sharply to find the gap between bat and pad. It went on to hit the top of off stump – a dream delivery for any fast bowler. Aaron was ecstatic after getting rid of the KKR openers. At the end of the Powerplay, KKR managed to put up just 32 runs on the board. The KKR skipper, Dinesh Karthik and Nitish Rana saw off a few tidy overs from the Royals. Shreyas Gopal and Riyan Parag kept things tight at either ends, taking the pressure to a crescendo. Rana finally succumbed to a slightly short delivery off Gopal. He tried to cut the ball, but found Varun Aaron at backward point. One couldn’t keep the pacer out of the game at this point. The Knight Riders stepped up the gas in the 11th over, when Karthik smashed 19 runs off Gopal’s first five balls and Narine ended the over with a maximum. Gopal conceded 25 runs off the over, his most expensive one of the season so far. Narine’s ended with some lazy running between the wickets. Going for the second run, he was caught well short as he ambled across with Varun Aaron’s throw close to the stumps, allowing Rahane to do the rest. Varun Aaron had a role to play in all the four wickets that fell up to this point in the game. Aaron returned to bowl the 14th over, his final of the night. Though Karthik took him for a boundary and a biggie in the over, he ended with figures of 4-1-20-2. Andre Russell was dropped twice, by Binny on the first occasion and substitute, Prashant Chopra on the second occasion. Thankfully, it didn’t prove costly for Rajasthan Royals, as Oshane got Russell to mistime a heave down to Riyan Parag at wide long on. The dangerman went for a run-a-ball 14. We conceded a bit too many in the last three overs, as two overs by Unadkat and one by Archer. Karthik, who was on a roll, as KKR collected 48 runs off 18 balls to take the total to 175. Karthik fell short of his century by just 3 runs. The chase began smoothly for Rajasthan Royals, as Ajinkya Rahane and Sanju Samson picked up boundaries regularly, with the ball coming nicely on to the bat. Rahane continued from where he left off against Delhi Capitals. He struck the ball sweetly to pick up amazing boundaries. The best of the lot was a magnificent slap off Prithvi Raj, as he came down the track and sent the ball sailing over point for a maximum. Sanju Samson, at the other end, smacked two gorgeous hits down the ground, towards the sight screen. Rahane lost his wicket in the final over of the Powerplay when he misread one from Sunil Narine and got trapped in front. The Royals had 55 runs on the board at the end of the Powerplay. It seemed to go downhill from here. Sanju Samson was cleaned up by a Piyush Chawls googly, and Narine went through the gates of Steve Smith in the following over. Riyan Parag and Ben Stokes were brought together at the crease with the score reading 63/3. The KKR spinners kept it tidy and didn’t give many easy runs to the pair. Ben Stokes tried to get after the bowling, but fell to a very good catch by Andre Russell at the ropes. Stuart Binny wasted no time as he smacked Chawla for six off his very first ball. He tried taking on the leggie once again in his following over but holed out at cow corner, departing for 11 runs. It was left to the calm heads of Riyan Parag and Shreyas Gopal. With the required rate rising, Parag rushed across his off-stump, lined himself up and ramped the ball past short fine leg for a boundary. Parag received a blow to his helmet when he tried to pull a bouncer off Russell on the next delivery. John Gloster had to rush to the centre to examine the helmet. Thankfully, Parag was alright and resumed with a replaced helmet. Gopal ended the over with a glorious drive that was hammered through cover. Gopal punished Nitish Rana in the 15th over with some calculative hitting on the final three balls of the over, picking three back-to-back boundaries. Just when it seemed like these two would take the team closer to the target, Shreyas Gopal miscued a lofted shot down the throat of Gill at long off. We needed 46 runs off the final four overs with Riyan Parag and Jofra Archer at the crease. Sunil Narine was greeted in his final over with a hammering down the ground by Archer for six. Riyan then picked up a crucial boundary in the same over and the equation at the end of the 17th over stood at 31 runs off 18 balls. Parag continued his brilliant stay at the crease with two more audacious strikes in the 18th over. He smashed Prasidh Krishna to the cow corner fence off the fourth delivery and brought the equation further down with a belligerent pull over square leg for a maximum. 18 needed off 12 balls The over started rather slowly for the Royals, but Riyan played catch up with a brave hit that went high up and just beyond the fence off the fourth ball of the over. He backed away to play a tennis forehand-like shot that just cleared the long on fence. He fell off the next delivery in most unfortunate fashion, as he gloved a short one to the fence behind the keeper, but his bat clipped the bails in the shot’s follow- through. Parag’s 31-ball 47 proved to be very handy for the Royals. Unadkat saw off the last ball of the over, and Archer ensured that they didn’t cross for the single. 9 needed off 6 Archer looked like a man on a mission with the bat. He swung with all his might against Krishna and got a thick outside edge that flew to the third man fence. On the next delivery, he swung once again and connected better this time around. The ball sailed perilously towards the deep extra cover region. The ball dropped away from the fielder, and more importantly, beyond the ropes, giving us a massive win at Eden Gardens. It was a must-win game and a bunch of cool heads in our camp put their hands up after the top order underwent a collapse. It started with Riyan Parag and Shreyas Gopal, it continued with the 17-year old and Jofra Archer, and eventually ended with Jofra Archer pulling off a heist in the final over. This win will boost the confidence of everyone in the team. The English boys, Stokes and Archer will depart for England duty, but the latter has left with a memory that will last with us a lifetime. Halla Bol!
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