Rajasthan Royals v Kolkata Knight Riders
Wednesday 18th April 2018
Jaipur

When KKR skipper Dinesh Karthik won the toss and asked the Royals to take first knock, it must have been a ‘bitter sweet’ moment for Rajasthan captain Rahane. After all, the statisticians would tell you that the team batting second wins more often than not in T20 cricket. However, the Royal Blues have won their last two fixtures comprehensively when setting totals – so Jinks won’t have been too dismayed that the coin didn’t drop in his favour.

He opened up with D’Arcy Short again and the first over was a quiet one as the Rajasthan batsmen felt their way into the innings. Just three runs from it. KKR opted for an all spin opening attack and boundaries proved hard to come by. Over 2 went for only one run more and with seven runs on the board, Royals fans were starting to feel anxious.

Chawla was varying pace and angles expertly and even rapid footwork from Ajinkya couldn’t spring the trap. D’Arcy opted to stay in his own crease – but just couldn’t read the spin and over 3 went for only two runs. The Aussie seemed rather out of nick on a Jaipur batting track that can confound even the best of batsmen.

Rahane relieved the pressure valve with four cracking fours from the first four Narine balls in Over 4. That’s more like it! The relief around the ground (and at the opposing end) was palpable. 18 runs from the over and the Royals scorecard was looking a touch healthier. It looked even better after Rahane straight hit Mavi for 6. The Royals skipper was leading from the front. Then from the 15th ball he faced, Short hit his first Royal boundary. Hopefully the first of many!

After a somewhat slow start, the Royals were now 40 without loss from their first five overs and it seemed that the foundations for a good total were being laid. Chawla was summoned to try to stem the flow – but Rahane was now seeing the leather like an oversized melon and dispatched his second ball to the rope with a magnificent off drive. It was a purists’ delight to see him stroke the ball to the boundary in text book fashion.

With London buses you can wait a while, but then two come at once, and that was the case with D’Arcy Short boundaries – as another one came soon after the first – this time Rana was the bowler. All was going smoothly but then… disaster. Jinks again skips down the track but this time the ball doesn’t rocket to the boundary… it comes off his pads and with him stranded down the crease, KKR keeper Karthik expertly flicks it onto the stumps. The unlucky Royal skipper was well out of his ground. Captain removes captain.

However, any sadness about a superb innings prematurely ended will have been tempered by the sight of Sanju “Mighty” Samsun striding to the crease. He’s been on fire this tournament – more Samsun Specials please! He started his innings in circumspect fashion, perhaps struggling to get the pace of the pitch like his colleagues. In fact Yadav almost snared him LBW third ball – a loud shout, thankfully turned down.

8 overs gone – 58 for 1 and another burst of Royals runs required. Mavi came on to bowl and kept things tight – the KKR bowlers were fighting back! Cricket is a fickle mistress – and Sanju was about to feel her wrath. A short ball from Mavi which in any of the previous three matches would have ended up over the ropes, instead landed in KKR fielder Kuldeep’s grateful hands. 68 for 2.

It was time to get the Royal Show back on the road. Tripathi almost being run out first ball was not the way to do it. 4 runs and a wicket from Over 9 – not good enough. Curran was summoned to bowl the tenth over and with D’Arcy just 18 off 28 and the innings nearing the half way mark something had to happen. It almost did. Tripathi was nearly run out again. The Royals innings was stuttering – someone needed to take this game by the scruff of the neck. Would it be Tripathi? Would it be Short? Or would it be someone in KKR colours?

The sixth ball of the tenth over was a short ball from Curran to Short. He flicked it imperiously off his hip for four. Perhaps this was the moment heralding an innings when the Australian would start to show his undoubted class. Two balls later – almost an exact replica – this time Narine’s delivery sent to the fence at square leg. Shorts stats were suddenly looking a whole lot better.

81 for 2 off 11 overs and the match was delicately poised. To get to 170 plus the Royals would need to score at 10 an over – no easy task against an accomplished KKR attack. The average first innings total at Fortress Jaipur is 156, perhaps that explains why the team batting second generally win.

As Mavi ran up to bowl his fourth delivery of the eleventh over nobody had any idea what would happen next… one of the biggest sixes you can imagine flew off D’Arcy’s bat to deep square leg. Just to keep the fans at square point interested, he dispatched the next ball for 4 in that direction. Welcome to the Royals Mr Short – great to have you on board! 14 off the over and things were looking up for the home team.

Five balls into the 13th over D’Arcy’s stop start knock was ended on 44 by Nitish when he was bowled hitting across the line – summoning Big Ben Stokes to the crease. A spectacular from the England star would come in very nicely at this point. The other batsman had needed time to adjust to the pace of the pitch. Mr Stokes did not have that luxury.

The 100 came up in the 13th over. With three wickets down, the game was delicately poised. Some big overs and the pressure would be on KKR on a wicket which seemed to possess a few demons, especially for the tweakers. Too many dot balls and the Royals score could be below par. Wicket balls would be even worse – and the last ball of the 14th over was exactly that. Tripathi caught by Andre Russell at mid on.

Stokes and Buttler had batted together and flourished many times in England colours. Could they do the same for Rajasthan? With five overs to go, the Royals were on 112 and four batsmen were back in the hutch. Leg spinner Yadav was brought on to bowl the 16th over – and for once Buttler’s reverse sweep didn’t yield a 4. Both batsmen were struggling to find the rope. That was until Stokes smote a big 6 over deep midwicket. I bet that felt good!

However the first ball of Chawla’s fourth over will have felt bad. Very bad. Skied high into the night sky and out. Stokes dismissed for 14. Gowtham to the crease and pressure on Buttler to help the tail extract all the runs possible. Narine bowled the 18 over – and lofty Gowtham promptly dispatched him over long off for six. Fine shot sir – using your big levers beautifully! Buttler followed that up with a four and Narine’s stats of no wickets for 48 runs off his set of four overs weren’t looking so great.

Gowtham’s cameo ended with him caught by Mavi off Curran for 12. It was a good dozen though – off just 7 balls. Gopal replaced him at the crease. A similar flurry from him would go down very nicely. It was not to be. Out first ball and Curran was on a hat trick. There was a danger that the Royals innings would end with a whimper. It was down to Kulkarni to prevent the hat trick and ideally get Buttler on strike. And that’s exactly what he did, running the ball down to third man like he didn’t have a care in the world. Buttler hit the last ball of the over for a straight four and the Royals went into the last set of six on 151 for 7.

A drop from Lynn off the first ball not only gave Kulkarni a second life, it also allowed a scampered single, bringing Jos onto strike. Next ball – two runs. Then a wide as Mavi tried too hard to get Buttler stretching. Then another! Then yet another. These extras and additional balls were coming in very handy. The last set of six was suddenly becoming a set of nine! Kulkarni selflessly gave up his wicket going for a second off the fifth legitimate ball of the over. What could Buttler do with the last delivery if the innings? A swing and a miss – leaving him on 24 and leaving the Royals on 160 for the loss of 8 wickets. Pretty much a par total – could the Rajasthan bowlers defend it?

Opening the batting for KKR, Narine and Lynn. Opening the bowling for Rajasthan, Gowtham. And what a thing of beauty the first over was! Lynn clean bowled for a duck and just one run scored. A fantastic start for the Royals.

Kulkarni bowled the second over and Gowtham the third. Rather like the Royals batsmen when they first came in, Narine and Uthappa initially struggled to master the pace of the pitch. They struck a few streaky fours, but there were lots of dot balls in the mix. If the Royals bowlers could continue to tighten the screws, the breakthrough would surely come. Sadly in over 4, Narine suddenly seemed to get his eye in and three consecutive fours spoiled Kulkarnis stats.

Skipper Rahane asked Unadkat to take the ball and hopefully settle things back down in the fifth over. It wasn’t to be. 13 runs from his set of 6 and the Royals needed a breakthrough fast to avoid this game running away from them. Could Ben Laughlin provide it? It didn’t look that way when his first ball went for 4 and his sixth ball went for 6. It was starting to look like this pitch was a spinner’s wicket and pace was easier to hit…

Jinks tossed the ball to Gopal and although the first two deliveries were dots the third was a half tracker that ended up in the crowd. Nine off the over and KKR were coasting. It looked like Fortress Jaipur was going to be breached for the first time in three years. A Stokes over slowed things down a little, but with 8 overs gone KKR were 68 for 1. Worrying times – but then perhaps a chink of light – Narine run out for 35!

Just when Royals fans thought they were back in it, Uthappa smacked the ball for a big six and then rapidly followed it up with a 4… the pendulum swung back to the visitors. It swung further over the next few years as the KKR pair continued to swat the ball to the boundary. Then in the 12th over Ben Stokes pulled off a miracle catch on the boundary to dismiss Uthappa – perhaps this game wasn’t over yet…

Rana and Karthik were at the crease and the game was about to enter a crucial phase. 51 runs required off 42 balls. The Royals needed wickets and dot balls to disrupt the KKR batsmen’s rhythm. There were a few of the latter – but none of the former as in the next few overs the Royals bowlers strived for a breakthrough. After 15 overs KKR were 121 for 3. Could Laughlin tighten things up in the 16th over? In one word “Yes”. In two words. “Five runs”. In three words “Well bowled Ben!”

More unhittable bowling like that and the Royals could yet win this game. Unadkat was allocated the 17th over. It seemed to be going well until the third ball. Slightly short of a length, it was swung over square leg for six. A big blow in every sense of the word. The fifth ball also went for a maximum. Another nail in the coffin. 16 off the over and now KKR only needed 19 from the last three overs. Cricket is a funny game, but it would need something hilarious for the Royals to win it from here.

The 17th over was bowled by Ben Stokes – and at the end of it KKR needed just ten from the last two overs. They knocked them off in the penultimate over with a big six of Big Ben Laughlin.

It was a game of “So near yet so far”. Ten more runs and KKR may well have fallen short. If a few of their early aerial shots had gone to hand then they could definitely have fallen short. But it wasn’t to be. The positives are the solid innings from D’Arcy Short, the beautiful strokes played by skipper Rahane and the magnificent catch on the boundary by Ben Stokes. Oh, and the fantastic support from the 22,000 Royals fans of course!

Two points may have Ridden off into the Knight all the way to Kolkata, but it was still an enjoyable game for fans and purists alike. Four games played – two won, two lost – let’s get back to winning ways next time!

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