A partnership that many experts didn’t see coming out-gunned Rajasthan Royals in Dubai. After losing two early wickets, the Royals were all over the Sunrisers batting order. Manish Pandey & Vijay Shankar were brought together with Bairstow & Buttler back in the pavilion. Pandey started the counter-attack and took the attack to the Royals bowlers. Shankar joined in after a slow start, and the partnership took the game away from the Royals. Steve Smith felt that we could have scored a few more runs and set a higher target, as the pitch played better for batsmen in the second innings.

David Warner put Rajasthan Royals in after calling it right at the toss. Smith mentioned that we were playing the same team as the last game, while the Sunrisers had two changes, Holder & Nadeem coming in for Williamson & Thampi. After seeing off the first two overs, Uthappa brought out some classic stroke-play to get things going in the Powerplay. He lofted some length deliveries effortlessly over mid-on and the square leg region, taking the attack to the SRH bowlers. After scoring a quick 19, Uthappa was run out by Holder, off his own bowling.

Samson joined Stokes and started off pretty well by playing a couple of delightful drives through the covers. Stokes seemed to be struggling to middle all the balls he faced. By the end of the Powerplay, Rajasthan Royals were 47/1 – a decent enough position, having lost just one wicket. Stokes & Samson played watchfully against Rashid Khan and looked to target bowlers at the other end.

Once Samson crossed 30, he lofted Holder for a big six over mid-wicket. Samson felt the need to go for some quick runs, as Stokes was going at below the run-a-ball mark. Holder out-smarted Samson on the next delivery, bowling a slower one after spotting Samson back away. He missed the cut and Holder found the stumps. The Royals got into further trouble when Stokes was bowled by a quick, full delivery that had him castled.

The winning partnership from our game against CSK was brought to the middle. Smith & Buttler had to shoulder the responsibility of preventing an avalanche from happening. Buttler couldn’t motor along with ease, but Smith compensated by picking up a couple of boundaries to keep the run-rate up. Buttler got out slicing a wide delivery off Shankar to backward point. He could score just 9 runs today.

Smith & Parag kept plucking gaps and running twos till the end of the 17th over. Rajasthan Royals needed an uplift to their innings with a strong finish in the final 3 overs. The answer came via two glorious shots from Riyan Parag off Natarajan. He first went down on his back knee after walking across and played a perfect scoop for four. The next ball disappeared over cover for a mighty six. He then played a very smart short, opening the face of the bat to squeeze the ball through short third man and backward point for four. The 18th over yielded 16 crucial runs for the Royals.

Holder bowled the 19th over and immediately picked up Smith’s wicket. The Royals skipper looked to hoick one over long on, but fell short by a couple of metres, finding Pandey’s hands. Parag miscued a big swing to long off and was caught by Warner for a handy 20. Archer walked out and didn’t waste any time, as he picked up a brace of twos off Holder. Despite losing two wickets, the Royals got 7 runs in the over.

Archer started the 20th with a deft ramp off Natarajan to the fine leg fence. For someone who is known to muscle the ball, that wasn’t an expected shot. The next few balls were quiet ones as Natarajan found the block-hole consistently. Archer finished with a flourish as he dispatched a low full toss over the straight boundary, to finish the innings on 154/6.

Archer impressed on the other side of the break as well. He picked up two big wickets, early on in the second innings. The first scalp was a combination of smart captaincy, quick bowling & excellent fielding. Smith placed Stokes at second slip, Archer pumped in a fast delivery, that flew off the edge to Stokes’ left. A gun fielder that he is, Stokesy held on to the catch and Archer kept his 100% record against Warner this year, intact. The Englishman then got his fellow England team-mate, Bairstow with a full delivery that crashed through his defences.

SRH were in some early trouble and the experience of Manish Pandey was what they were banking on from there on. Pandey counter-attacked in the remainder of the Powerplay, capitalising on some loose deliveries from Tyagi & Stokes. They managed to score 58 runs by the end of the sixth over. Pandey then attacked the spinners to pick up timely boundaries to keep the required run-rate in check. Vijay Shankar, who was taking his time to settle in, opened his shoulders against Shreyas Gopal in the 11th over. The equation got simpler for SRH, as they needed just 61 off 54 balls.

Rajasthan Royals were in dire need of a wicket and Smith turned towards Archer’s skills, bringing him on in the 12th over. Shankar managed to survive the over and that gave him much needed confidence when he faced Jofra in his final over. Shankar lofted Archer thrice off the first three deliveries to pick up consecutive boundaries. With Jofra done and SRH cruising in the chase, there was just too much to ask off Tyagi & Stokes in the final four overs.

Pandey and Shankar put up a very good century stand and saw the chase right till the end to take SRH home. They played good balls with respect and punished the loose ones to perfection. Steve Smith mentioned at the post match presentation that there was some dew and the wicket did get better. He added that the team could have done with some more runs in the first innings as well.

The Royals continue to stay on 8 points in the table, while Sunrisers move from 6 to 8. The two teams have swapped positions with the Royals sliding to the seventh position. The chances of making it to the Playoffs now depend on mathematical calculations and permutations that depend on the other teams’ results. We can only keep our fingers crossed and our hopes alive.