Rajasthan Royals (RR) finally won a match to book their tickets to the Indian Premier League playoffs. They defeated Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) by nine runs in a close encounter in Mumbai last night.
KKR is almost out of the competition with this defeat. There is one way they can reach the next round still: if the match between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Mumbai Indians washes out, they will be through on the basis of net run rate.
RR’s league position will only be determined after the results of today’s fixtures. If Royal Challengers Bangalore loses against Delhi Daredevils and the match between Sunrisers and Mumbain Indians washes out, RR will be second on the points table.
Royals won the toss and chose to bat first. Bizarrely, the Kolkata team decided to rest two of the best spinners in the league, Sunil Narine and Brad Hogg, and chose to include Azhar Mahmood in the eleven. The lack of bite in Knight Riders’ bowling was obvious, as RR managed to score at a run rate of nearly 10 right from the start of the innings. Shane Watson’s brilliant hundred acted as the bulwark around which the RR innings was built. Ajinkya Rahane, Steven Smith and Karun Nair played useful cameos to support Watson. Rajastan Royals finished with 199 for six, setting a target of exact 200 for Knight Riders.
KKR must have been happy with that target, especially considering the fact that at one stage Royals looked like setting a target of in excess of 220. But the Kolkata openers departed without making a significant contribution. Gautam Gambhir was out in the first over. Robin Uthappa had looked in good touch, but mistimed a drive and was caught at mid off. Maneesh Pandey appeared woefully out of touch. Knight Riders still managed to score at healthy rate, mainly because of the number of extras given away by the RR bowlers.
Andrea Russell and Yusuf Pathan then biffed a quick fire partnership to raise hopes for a KKR win. All they needed was 54 runs from five overs. But then Russell was caught in the deep in the bowling of Chris Morris after making 37 off 20 balls. Morris sent back Suryakumar Yadav in the very next ball. Yusuf Pathan too departed soon, trying to up the ante, after scoring 44 off 35 balls. Shakib al Hasan never came to terms with the invisible demons on the pitch, while the rest of the batsmen simply committed Hara-kiri.
KKR needed 40 runs from the final two overs with two wickets in hand. Umesh Yadav blitzed 24 runs from the 19th over, as the KKR fans found their voice again. However, Chris Morris returned to bowl a tidy 20th over to earn a long overdue victory for Rajasthan Royals.
Shane Watson is the man of the match.