Rajasthan Royals held on by the skin of their teeth to seal a spot in the play-offs after beating Kolkata Knight Riders in a close encounter and the latter just fell short of 9 runs to reach the semi-finals stage.
Earlier, after winning the toss Rajasthan skipper Steve Smith decided to put his team to bat first. The team of Rajasthan left no stone unturned and placed their team’s score of 199/6 under the limelight at the Brabourne Stadium. Though it was a batting-pitch and KKR fought back in equal terms but it was Rajasthan who were excelling today. After examining the pitch whick looked greenish, good for batting and seam bowling, RR made three changes. Pravin Tambe, Rajat Bhatia and Ankit Sharma were replaced by Brainder Sran(who played his first game in the IPL), Dhawal Kulkarni and Stuart Binny. Kolkata made one change in their playing XI, they bench Sunil Narine and replaced him with Azhar Mahmood to add some depth in the team’s batting department along with bowling.
(It was a knock-out game for both the teams)
The opening pair of Rajasthan, the Rahane-Watson-duo helped their to flourish in the first six overs by going the extra mile and giving a dream start by putting 66 runs on the scoreboard. But as soon as the openers pulled themselves together, they ended up in losing a wicket in the form of Ajinkya Rahane, where he was trying to steal another run but Watson smelled the danger and sent him back to the dugout.
After Rahane’s 22-ball-37 send off , skipper Steve Smith didn’t spend much time on the crease. He flicked the full toss straight at the short fine leg and the ball landed safely in the hands of Morne Morkel. Every Rajasthan Royals’ batsmen tried to contribute some runs but only Shane Watson managed to thrive brilliantly. He stood till the end on the crease and remained unbeaten. His century of 104 runs off just 59 balls included nine fours and five sixes.
With a great total (to chase), comes great load of pressure on the batsmen. As the Kolkata openers Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa stepped in to give an attacking reply to the Royals, Rajasthan brought their in-form and most consistent bowler Chris Morris into the attack to bowl the first over. Morris got his first wicket in that very over and dismissed Gautam Gambhir. Soon fortune had started to favor the Royals as they got another wicket in the form of Robin Uthappa, a major blow to Kolkata. Wrong selection of shot and he was caught at mid-off by Steve Smith.
Loss of both the openers and their were two new batsmen on the crease, Yusuf Pathan and Manish Pandey. The partnership started to build between the two, from 21/2 in the third over they accelerated the scoreboard to 77/2 by the end of eighth over. The beginning of ninth over brought another success for the Royals in the form of Manish Pandey’s return to the pavilion. After Pandey’s dismissal, the key player for Kolkata, Andrew Russell came in to bat at number five. The fall of early wickets and failure of of the openers built pressure on the middle-order and this led to continuous fall of wickets. The batting line-up of KKR crumbled in the last 10 overs. But out of nowhere Umesh Yadav showed a ray of hope when he let his freak flag fly in the death overs by adding some runs in the form of fours and sixes. But Royals are the one who are through to the playoffs as Kolkata fell short of 9 runs to reach their dream of making it up into the semifinal stage.
Shane Watson won the Man-of-the-match award for his 2 wckets haul and an unbeaten 104. “Certainly due. Through the tournament I wasn’t able to get going. Three or four day build up was good to sort things out, my batswing and all. Had a couple of days to work on a couple of things and be ready to go from the first ball. [Giving up captaincy] Especially bowling wise, it’s hard for me to know when I should bowl and when not to and the most important thing for me is to execute my skills. So many incredible sides in the IPL, not many weaknesses among them. For us its about riding the waves and going to the finals and giving ourselves the best chance to win. As good as I’ve batted in a long while, especially in T20 cricket, just to feel at ease in the way I was hitting the ball”