Rajasthan Royals vs Mumbai Indians
Sunday 22nd April 2018

The 2018 IPL fixture where Rajasthan Royals hosted the Mumbai Indians will no doubt go down in the pantheon as one of the all time great Royals contests. There have been a few classics in our time, not least our last ball win to the Inaugural IPL ten years ago, but in terms of the pendulum swinging from one team to the other, and then a nail biting finish with a previously unsung hero keeping everyone on their toes and carrying our team, to a spectacular triumph, this epic battle is hard to match.

No one knew the drama that was about to unfold when Mumbai Indians skipper Rohit Sharma won the toss and decided to bat first. It was no surprise that the coin didn’t fall in the Royals favour, that has become par for the course, but victorious captains in T20 these days usually prefer to chase. Perhaps Rohit felt the batting track would get more difficult to score runs on as the evening progressed. Perhaps he felt Rajashtan had a mental weakness chasing after their last two failed attempts. Either way, the Mumbai openers were asked to strap on their pads, don their helmets and stride out to the middle.

The Royals attack got off to a good start, dismissing Mumbai opener Evin Lewis with the fourth ball of the match. But then Yadav and Kishan snatched the initiative back and put their team in the ascendancy with a fantastic 129-run partnership, both scoring half centuries. The leg-side was the preferred choice for both batsmen. Kishan scored 72% of his runs and Yadav hitting 74% of his runs through that side of the pitch. If Kishan was Mr Muscle, standing tall and punishing the bowlers, Yadav’s innings was more a mixture of wristwork and brute power. The pair had added 129 runs in 13.4 overs when both batsmen were dismissed in close proximity. Kishan, who made 58 from 42 balls, was removed in the 15th over, while Yadav was dismissed six balls later for a career-best 72 (made from 47 balls). It had looked like the MI total was heading way past 200. But, as is often the case with long partnerships, when one goes both go and with two new batsmen at the crease run scoring starts to slow down.

The Royals responded magnificently to breaking up the partnership and reined in the Mumbai Innings and keep the total manageable. Ajinkya Rahane didn’t let the opportunity to run out opposing skipper Sharma go to waste. He hit the wickets at the non-striker’s end with a sensational throw. And then Jofra Archer exploded onto the Royal scene. Up until now in this tournament, the Royals attack had lacked penetration and pure wicket grabbing power. Archer was called up to provide that – and he did so in spades. Bowling at around 90 mph, already the second fastest bowling in the IPL, he started to cause the Mumbai batsmen all sorts of difficulties.

In his last over Jofra ripped through the Mumbai middle order and picked up three wickets with some superb fiery deliveries. On his debut in the IPL, the Barbados-born all-rounder executed change of pace brilliantly. He tested batsmen with speeds in excess of 140 kph regularly, but was also able to get the ball down to speeds under 120 km per hour – showing intelligent variety in his approach to the challenge of keeping the MI batsmen guessing. The 23-year old also delivered his yorkers at good pace. He couldn’t really have had a more impressive debut, returning figures of 4-0-22-3.

Thanks to the efforts of Jofra and the other Rajasthan death bowlers, the Mumbai Innings petered out well short of expectations at the half way stage. They were 43-1 in the powerplay, then they added 92-1 in the middle overs, but the middle order could only add 32 runs (for the loss of 5 wickets) an the back end.

That they’d posted 167-7 was down to those half-centuries from Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan. It was a challenging target which would take some surpassing, but it could have been so much more.

For the Royals it was time to ring the changes at the top of the order again, with their third opening partnership in three games. Rahul Tripathi was summoned to join his captain at the top of the order and many pundits thought this was the right call. Tripathi has scored plenty of runs as opener in the past. However, today it wasn’t to be and Tripathi went early for 9. Jinks soon followed him for 14 and Royals fans were worried. Samson and Stokes needed to build a strong partnership to get the show back on the road and that is exactly what they did. With boundaries hard to come by, they kept the scoreboard ticking at 7 runs an over to make sure the chasers kept in contention. Samson batted particularly beautifully, caressing the ball around the ground. Stokes looked to dominate and intimidate the bowlers, often coming down the track to take them on.

In the end Ben Stokes contributed a useful 40, made from 27 balls. His partnership with Sanju was worth 72 and kept us in the chase after we’d lost the two wickets early on. However, when the English all-rounder was dismissed in the fifteenth over, his leg pole uprooted by an inch-perfect yorker from Hardik Pandya, Royals nerves started to jangle.

Sanju did even better than Big Ben, scoring 52 from 39 balls – which earned him back the Orange Cap – but just like his English team mate, he lost his wicket at a crucial stage. The youngster from Kerala had appeared unruffled by the steadily climbing required rate and had cleverly kept his head down and ran plenty of singles and twos to unsettle the opposition, but then he tried a big hit across the line and fell to a catch in the deep. This led to a flurry of wickets, mostly at the hands of Jasprit Bumrah whose third over (Over 17), secured the two wickets of Sanju and Jos Buttler and went for just one run. It seemed to seal the Royals demise. Klaasen went for a golden duck next over and Mumbai were very much in the box seat, coasting to victory.

But they reckoned without a certain Krishnappa Gowtham. When Mr Gowtham walked out to bat, Rajasthan had lost three wickets in the space of five deliveries, but the Karnataka lad didn’t seem to have a care in the world. The pressure was immense, the Royals couldn’t really afford to lose this fixture and go into their week off from playing ‘won 2 lost 4’ – but he clearly wasn’t going to let any of that phase him. He went for a ‘see ball – hit ball’ approach and he pulled it off. The tall bowler used his long levers to dispatch the ball to all parts of the ground. He collected four boundaries (including one delightful cut to square point) and two sixes (including the winning hit), ending on 33 from just the 11 balls. In that wonderful cameo innings, he joined Jofra Archer as an undoubted star performer who could light up our tournament – both players finding a place in Royals’ fans’ hearts with two magnificent match winning performances.

This was a ‘must win’ match for the Royals to get momentum back going into the rest of the tournament after two crushing defeats. It was a ‘must achieve’ chase after a number of failed attempts to win batting twice. And it was time to find players who can unsettle the opposition and turn games on their head even when all seems lost. In Archer and Gowtham we appear to have unearthed two such players.

Two New Royal Stars Have Been Born! Halla Bol!


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