Our love affair with Sharjah isn’t the same anymore. Perhaps, Sharjah isn’t the same paradise that our batters once fell in love with. In fact, it turned out to be barren land bearing only a basket full of heartbreaks for Rajasthan Royals, as the harsh reality of our IPL 2021 campaign struck us once and for all.

We needed two wins from two to make it to the playoffs, and we went into the game with two changes from the XI that played CSK. Akash Singh, who struggled with a niggle during that game as well, made way for another debutant – young left arm pacer Kuldip Yadav. Spin saw a change too, as Shreyas Gopal returned to the XI, replacing Mayank Markande.

Sure, we expected a slow pitch, but the uneven bounce meant our batters’ natural strengths were negated to an extent. We hadn’t played at Sharjah before this year and were up against a team who had. Perhaps the toss was crucial too, but alas, from the very moment Rohit Sharma called a loud ‘heads’ and won the toss, it went downhill for us.

The lack of bounce and the unevenness of it had our able batters questioning their judgement on each delivery. To be very fair, the only time the match saw a neat bouncer was in Boult’s first over, with Yashasvi adjudging it accurately and leaning back to pull it over midwicket to the boundary. From then on, our batters kept expecting higher bounce, and got trapped just as the MI bowlers would like them to be. Exactly how Yashasvi lost his wicket, off Nathan Coulter-Nile’s delivery, as he went to cut a full-paced delivery which only found the bottom edge of his bat and straight to the keeper.

Before that fateful delivery in the 4th over, our openers enjoyed one big over off Jayant Yadav with Evin Lewis scoring a maximum and his partner smashing two fours. There was still hope with Lewis sticking around but it was right before the closing of the Powerplay that the power hitter was dismissed, LBW by Bumrah.

RR were 41/2 at the end of the Powerplay and then 41/3 immediately after it, with Jimmy Neesham doing the damage by sending our skipper Sanju Samson back. The partnership between Dube and Phillips or Dube and Miller didn’t last long enough to deny a collapse. Wickets kept coming in quick succession for Mumbai while the match kept slipping away from us. The boundary which Chetan hit in the 19th over, bowled by Coulter-Nile, was our first in 79 balls. Mustafizur Rahman clobbered a six off the penultimate ball of RR’s innings to give us fans a moment of cheer and to take our total to a mere 90/9.

The bowlers had an extremely tough job in hand. To defend 90 runs on an eased out Sharjah pitch in the second innings. Mumbai scored 56 runs in the Powerplay despite Chetan bagging the wicket of Rohit Sharma (22 off 13) in the 4th over, following a maiden at the start of his spell. Sharma’s opening partner Ishan Kishan stayed on and powered the rest of the chase despite another hiccup - Suryakumar Yadav losing his wicket to Mustafizur Rahman. But at that time only 35 more were required off the remaining 86 balls.

Chetan, who had gone for only 12 runs in his first two overs, was smacked hard for 24 runs in his third over by Kishan and that was it for us. With only 7 runs required from there, the Mumbai opener hit a four and six to complete his fifty and also take MI to a gigantic 8-wicket victory (with 70 balls remaining).

The sudden shift from a batting paradise that Abu Dhabi was, perhaps, the biggest shock for RR on Tuesday. We came up short, massively short in our battle against Rohit Sharma’s team. As MI kept their campaign alive, ours was all over. Our final contest in IPL 2020 is scheduled to be played on Thursday against Kolkata Knight Riders, at the same venue. The team will be back with the promise of a better display of cricket, with the hope for a finish on a winning note.

What do you think our overseas combination for Thursday’s match against KKR should be? Send in your views on Twitter at @rajasthanroyals or to me @cricketpun_duh