A complete batting performance – that is what you can call Rajasthan Royals’ chase against Punjab. We were set 186 to win after a languid 99 by Chris Gayle. Our batsmen took the attack to the Punjab bowlers from the word go. All five who went out to bat crossed 20 runs, the first time this has happened in the IPL. The commanding chase has helped improve our net run rate and more importantly taken us level with Punjab & Kolkata on 12 points, as we rise to number 5 in the table.
After a successive run of losing tosses, one went Smith’s way, and he elected to bowl without any hesitation. Varun Aaron came into the playing XI for Ankit Rajpoot, boosting the bowling with some pace. There was familiarity in the way proceedings got underway for Rajasthan Royals with the ball. Archer ripped through some quick deliveries to KL Rahul, who negotiated them rather well. However, when Mandeep Singh got on strike, he was welcomed by a feisty short one right at him. He got into an awkward position, took his eyes off and gloved the ball. Ben Stokes came charging in from point and clutched the ball before it touched the grass.
Rahul was joined by Chris Gayle. Archer got only one ball at Gayle in his second over, a sharp bouncer that Gayle quietly evaded. He got going off Varun Aaron & Kartik Tyagi’s bowling though, picking up some effortless fours & sixes, with Rahul. Gayle was dropped off Aaron when Parag & Uthappa converged at the square leg fence. Parag went for the catch, but having Uthappa running backwards wouldn’t have helped him. At the end of the Powerplay, Kings XI had notched up 53/1.
The duo had to contend with some smart bowling by the Royals. However, they ensured that a boundary was scored off most of the middle overs. Tyagi’s first two overs proved to be expensive, as he conceded 22 runs. Tewatia & Stokes however, kept things rather tight with their variations. Gayle received a huge reprieve when he miscued a Tewatia ball straight up towards the mid-on region. Tewatia ran backwards, while Stokes had the opportunity to run in from long on and complete the catch. The latter didn’t come in the way of the unstoppable bowler and the catch was not completed. In hindsight, it would have been easier for Stokes to run in and attempt the take.
With the partnership crossing 100, Smith was forced to bring Archer back into the attack. The over went for a bit as Rahul & Gayle hit a four each, the latter’s more of a streaky one though. The much-needed wicket came in the next over, when Rahul looked to smash one over mid-wicket. He couldn’t get enough and the shot ended as a simple catch taken by Tewatia.
Nicholas Pooran walked in and got off the blocks with a couple of big hits off Aaron, one of them off a Free Hit. He then punished Tyagi as well, spoiling what would have been a quiet over in the death. Stokes’ final over was taken for a four & a six by Gayle, but he managed to dismissed Pooran, thanks to a smart catch by Tewatia at deep square leg. The ball seemed to be sailing over his head, but a well-timed jump ensured that he had the ball in his palms & didn’t lose balance. Stokes finished with 2/32, his best bowling figures of the season.
Archer was given the responsibility to bowl the final over. Gayle hit a six off a full toss to get himself to 99. Archer then responded with a yorker that went through Gayle’s defences, dismissing him on the cursed number. The duo shook hands as Gayle walked back after a wonderful knock. Kings XI managed to put up 185 on the board. The Rajasthan Royals bowlers did well to keep them under 200, especially after a century stand between Gayle & KL Rahul.
The Royals openers played some fantastic shots in the Powerplay. Stokes picked up a handy boundary off the final ball of the first over. He followed it up with his trademark cut through cover-point off Shami. Uthappa joined in with a stupendous pull shot off Shami over the fine leg fence. The third over saw a couple of boundaries off Stokes’ blade and the Royals were on 31/0 after 3.
Stokes seemed to be carrying on from where he’d left of in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. He made some room and threaded a shortish ball from Ashwin through cover. That was followed by a picture-perfect loft over the straight fence for six. He wasn’t done yet. Stokes walked across, then sat down and swept Ashwin for a six over square leg. He picked up 16 runs off the leg-spinner’s first over.
Such was Stokes’ confidence that he was backing away off Shami, exposing all his stumps and cracking the ball through the covers. He did it again in the 5th over off the pacer. Uthappa nearly got out in the same fashion as he did in the previous game. His short-arm pull fell just short of the mid-on fielder.
Stokes went after his England team-mate in the 6th over. He lofted Chris Jordan over the long off fence with ease to get to his half-century off 24 balls. However, the merry-making came to an end as he bunted a full ball straight to Hooda at mid-off. Stokes got us off to the perfect start in the chase before walking back. Sanju Samson walked in & finished the Powerplay with a powerful boundary through point, to take Rajasthan Royals’ score to 66/1.
Ashwin & Bishnoi managed to hold the lid over the scoring rate briefly after the Powerplay. Uthappa broke loose at the end of the 7th over with a cheeky reverse sweep to the third man fence. Samson treated us with a towering six as Arshdeep came back into the attack. He stood tall and pulled the ball massively over mid-wicket. He finished the over with an intelligently guided stroke past short third man for a boundary.
Samson went after Bishnoi in the 10th over. He went with the spin, lofting the ball minimum effort and perfect timing over the cover fence. The 100 came up for the Royals in the 10th over. Uthappa went down on his knee and disdainfully dispatched a flat six over the mid-wicket fence. He tried to repeat it, but this time found Pooran at the edge of the ropes. Uthappa played a very good hand as he departed on 30 with the score reading 111/2.
Smith decided to get going quickly. He started with a lap to fine leg for two and followed it up with a drag sweep through mid-wicket for four off Bishnoi. Samson freed his arms as Ashwin dropped the length short and bludgeoned the ball over mid-wicket for six. He went to the other side of the field to another short one, cutting the ball to the point fence to finish the 13th with 132/2 on the board. Rajasthan Royals needed 54 off the final 7 overs.
Jordan was at the receiving end of Samson’s finesse. The Englishman strayed on Samson’s pads and was glanced to the fine leg fence with utmost ease. Smith finished the Jordan over by smartly guiding a yorker outside off, fine to the third man fence, beating the fielder there as well. The equation was being brought down with some pace, as the Royals now needed just 42 off 36 balls.
With the chase under control, Smith & Samson went for a risky run. Samson was running to the striker’s end where the direct hit was scored. Sanju’s dive didn’t help, as he was caught a few metres out. He had to walk back two runs short of what would have been another amazing 50. Buttler came out and went through a few nervous minutes as KXIP took a review after Bishnoi’s appeal was turned down. The ball landed well outside leg stump, and the umpire’s decision was upheld. Buttler then got off the mark on the following delivery. The Bishnoi over saw only 2 runs being scored.
Jordan was just about completing a quiet 16th over, but Buttler opened his shoulders to send the ball packing into the stands beyond long on. Whatever little pressure was there on the Royals, trickled away after that humungous blow. Smith decided to take Shami on and started the 17th over with two consecutive boundaries. He lofted the first one mid-off and then used his wrists to get one away to the mid-wicket fence. He picked up a third boundary with a smooth ramp to the fine leg fence. Buttler finished the over with a hoick that was timed well enough to reach the fence. We took 19 runs off that over to bring the equation down to 11 off 18 balls.
Buttler brought his power, quick hands & brute force into play as he hammered Jordan beyond the sight-screen for a gigantic six. It seemed like a golf swing. Jordan bowled a wide that eventually took us home in just 17.3 overs. We completed a second consecutive chase with a batting performance filled with authority.
What stood out in the chase for Rajasthan Royals is that all the 5 batsmen who got an opportunity made handy contributions. The lowest score was Buttler’s unbeaten 22. A Stokes -powered start got us going & Uthappa provided able support by being part of two half-century stands with Stokes & then Samson. Samson played another magical knock, as Smith & Buttler finished off the chase in style.
The Royals have marched to 12 points and sit on number 5 in the points table. Our net run rate has improved as the chase ended with 15 balls to spare. The fight for the fourth spot has intensified with yesterday & today’s result. All eyes will be on the matches that precede our next game on Sunday. We hope for the results to go away and then walk out in Dubai to face KKR. Our hopes to make it to the Playoffs are still alive and kicking.