“We aren’t thinking too far ahead, taking it one match at a time.”
Captain Sanju Samson’s words, at the post-match presentation, summed up Rajasthan Royals’ approach to the game, as we pulled off an incredible chase to beat the Chennai Super Kings in Abu Dhabi.
Three back-to-back defeats, our playoffs hopes hanging by a thread, and a humungous target for us to chase – it all seemed stacked against us during the mid-innings break. About 90 minutes later, with 15 balls remaining, we’d pulled off a seven-wicket win against the table-toppers, to live to fight another day in IPL 2021.
It was a good day to win the toss with the pitch easing out during the evening at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium. Opting to bowl first, Sanju Samson’s team fielded an XI with all of FIVE changes from the last match. Mayank Markande, Glenn Phillips and Akash Singh were handed debuts ahead of a must-win game, while David Miller and Shivam Dube returned to the XI in place of Morris, Riyan, Liam, Mahipal and Kartik. All in all, it was a new-look side, raring to go and grab those 2 points.
Us being us, we handed the opening overs to youngsters Akash and Chetan Sakariya – trusting them to start us off, with the backing of Mustafizur Rahman’s experience following through in the Powerplay. While CSK openers Faf du Plessis and Ruturaj Gaikwad survived the first six overs, Chetan and Mustafizur were particularly economical, limiting the men in yellow to 44/0. Right after the Powerplay, we got our first breakthrough with Rahul Tewatia foxing Faf with a googly, with the stumping carried out with ease by Sanju.
After Mayank’s 4-run over, Tewatia returned for his second over and bagged the big wicket of Suresh Raina, who was caught comfortably by Shivam Dube at deep mid-wicket. Two in two overs for Tewatia, on a pitch not offering much turn. Akash, who had conceded 18 runs off his first two overs, returned to bowl a 4-run over and another debutant, Glenn Phillips, too conceded only as many runs in his solitary over. However, the threat of a well-set Ruturaj Gaikwad was looming over us.
Gaikwad hit back-to-back sixes in Tewatia’s final over right before our mainstay bounced back with the wicket of Moeen Ali - another quick stumping by Sanju. Tewatia finished with figures of 3-39, an impressive outing with wickets at key moments. CSK were 116/3 at the end of 15 overs but after a 17-run 16th over, the floodgates opened. Despite the wicket of Ambati Rayudu, caught in the deep by Phillips off Chetan’s bowling, Gaikwad and Jadeja (32 off 15) added 55 runs off the final 22 deliveries of CSK’s innings, with all bowlers facing the music. Gaikwad, at 95* off 59, smashed Fizz for six off the last ball of the innings to reach his maiden T20 hundred, and take Chennai’s total to a massive 189/4.
The chase was undeniably hard on paper but from the very moment our openers Yashasvi and Evin Lewis took the field, things seemed to ease out for the Royals. The duo wreaked havoc on CSK’s pacers throughout the first five overs, where a stunning 75 runs were scored. Yashasvi in particular was the aggressor, smashing Hazlewood for 3 sixes and 22 runs in a single over as well. Lewis seemingly played second fiddle, but still had a SR of 200+ (!) until he was dismissed in the 6th over. At the end of the Powerplay, we were at 81/1. Yashasvi smashed 6 fours and 3 sixes in his 19-ball fifty, the second-fastest for the Royals in our history, before departing in the following over. Any worries of a collapse or slowing down of the scoring rate were soon put to bed, as Sanju and Shivam kept the momentum going from the off, with the latter playing a fine knock on his comeback to the side.
A destructive batter against spin in particular, Shivam took the attack to Jadeja and Moeen Ali straight up, clearing the ropes regularly to make the long Abu Dhabi boundaries look rather small. He also punished the pacers, notably Sam Curran with a six and a four in the same over, and took us to a winning position along with the skipper. Sanju (28 off 24) departed in the 16th over – holding out to deep square leg - with RR already on top with 170 on the board. Meanwhile, Dube completed his maiden IPL fifty, finishing unbeaten with 64 off 42. It was also great to get a first glimpse of Glenn Phillips, who scored 14* in his 8-ball cameo with one superb pull shot that sailed over the boundary.
Whenever the Royals are backed into a corner – we seem to find a way to claw things back. This was a courageous, resilient performance by a team that knows it’s much better than its current position in the league table. Hopefully this win gives the squad the confidence before the massive games coming up against MI and KKR – but we will need to win both to make it to the promised land that is the IPL playoffs.