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The Rajasthan Royals embarked on their Pepsi IPL 2014 campaign on a winning note. They beat the Sunrisers Hyderabad by a four-wicket margin while chasing a 134-run target. After Rajat Bhatia, Dhawal Kulkarni and Kane Richardson starred with the ball, Ajinkya Rahane and Stuart Binny’s contributions with the bat proved valuable in what turned out to be a last-over finish.
Earlier, Shane Watson asked SRH to bat first on a track where, in the previous match, KXIP had successfully chased down CSK’s 205-run total.
However, much to the chagrin of the SRH batters, runs did not come by as freely as they did in the early evening game. On what turned out to be a bowler-friendly alter ego of the previous track, Aaron Finch (2) got out in the very first over of the match. After that, Shikhar Dhawan (38) and David Warner (32) looked to stabilise the innings. They compiled a 75-run second-wicket stand, before Rajat Bhatia got rid of both batsmen within a space of two overs. At that point, SRH had posted 82 for three in 13.2 overs.
And with their tails up, the Royals bowlers kept the Sunrisers on a tight leash for the rest of the innings. They ensured the opposition did not build any substantial partnerships after the Dhawan-Warner liaison. Dhawal Kulkarni, on his Royals debut, ended up picking two wickets, including Finch and Lokesh Rahul (20). Even the big-hitting Darren Sammy (6) was gagged by some tight bowling by RR. Karn Sharma (4), who is known to be a handy batsman in the lower-middle order, also failed to accelerate the run-rate. Thanks to a combined effort from their bowling unit, the Royals restricted the Sunrisers to 133 for six in their allotted 20 overs.
While Bhatia (4-0-22-2) and Kulkarni (4-0-23-2) clocked nearly identical bowling figures, even Kane Richardson ended up taking two wickets at an economy rate of little over six. Pravin Tambe was yet another Royals bowler who was stingy throughout his spell; the 42-year-old conceded only 23 runs during his four-over spell.
RR’s response also started on a shaky note as Dale Steyn trapped Abhishek Nayar (4) leg-before in the first over of the run-chase. Sanju Samson then came out to the middle to pair up with Ajinkya Rahane. But the going did not get any easier for the Royals as Samson (3) had to return when his testing nine-ball stay at the crease came to an end, courtesy Bhuvneshwar Kumar. At 15 for two, RR’s chase was in all sorts of trouble and they needed a big partnership to get back on track in a game where preserving wickets was clearly more important than scoring at a brisk pace.
However, the Royals’ worries deepened when after Steyn and Kumar, the third SRH pacer, Ishant Sharma, struck with a seemingly unplayable delivery. The wiry quick forced an outside edge off Watson’s (3) bat that was safely pouched by the ‘keeper. When the Royals skipper got out, his team was struggling on 31 for three in 6.2 overs. Rahane and Stuart Binny then took charge of the innings. They stuck it out for nearly 10 overs and added 77 runs for the fourth wicket, until Amit Mishra got rid of Rahane (59) after a well-crafted half-century. Mishra even dismissed the experienced Brad Hodge (1) soon after, adding another twist to the tale. And then, just when his team needed him, the ever-reliable Steyn bagged the wicket of Rajat Bhatia (4).
The game came down to the final over with RR’s hopes resting on Binny (48*) and James Faulkner (8*). The duo ensured their team got over the line with four wickets in hand and three balls to spare.
For SRH, Steyn and Mishra took two wickets apiece, while Kumar and Sharma accounted for a scalp each. Man of the Match: Ajinkya Rahane for his match-winning knock (59) in a high-pressure chase
Kings XI Punjab made a big statement by beating two-time IPL champions, Chennai Super Kings, by six wickets in their season opener. Led by the big-hitting duo of Glenn Maxwell (95) and David Miller (54), KXIP reached the sizeable 206-run target with seven balls to spare.
Earlier, the explosive Dwayne Smith and Brendon McCullum launched the CSK innings, after MS Dhoni opted to bat first. Both openers, who were playing for the Chennai franchise for the first time, took the KXIP bowlers head on. They even took Mitchell Johnson to the cleaners, scoring 14 runs off the Australian’s very first over. The pair then plundered 18 off Parwinder Awana’s second over, and took the score past 50 in the fifth over itself. In fact, CSK had put up 70 without loss by the time the sixth over drew to a close. In the process, they clocked their best powerplay score in IPL competition.
McCullum soon brought up his half-century in just 30 balls. CSK then raced to 100 in the 10th over, thanks to the constant onslaught by both batters. Finally, KXIP were able to get a breakthrough in the 12th over thanks to Akshar Patel; the left-arm spinner got rid of McCullum (67), who appeared set for a big score. The wicket, however, brought momentary respite for the team from Mohali. With Suresh Raina, who was playing his 100th IPL match, walking out in the middle, Smith found another able ally to continue the barrage of big hits. The pair added 38 runs at a fair clip, before Smith (66) got out in the 17th over with the scorecard reading 161 for two.
Raina (24) then added 24 runs with Dhoni, before returning to the dugout. The CSK skipper, along with Dwayne Bravo (8*), however, ensured the score went past the 200-run mark with some late-innings big hits. Dhoni (26) perished off the last ball of the 20th over with the scoreboard reading 205 for four. For KXIP, Lakshmipathy Balaji ended up with two wickets for 43 in his four overs, while Patel and Awana claimed a scalp each.
In response, Cheteshwar Pujara (13) and Virender Sehwag (19) got KXIP off to a brisk start. However, the Nawab of Najafgarh was done in by his Dehli teammate, Ashish Nehra, before he could make any serious impact on the course of the match. Pujara soon succumbed to R Ashwin, who trapped him leg-before. Patel (2) was also out in the same fashion to Ashwin, leaving KXIP on 51 for three in 5.1 overs.
David Miller then joined forces with Glenn Maxwell in an attempt to revive the run-chase. The pair kept chipping away at the target with occasional boundaries and brought up the team 100 in the 11th over. However, Maxwell stepped on the pedal after reaching his half-century; he had the lion’s share of runs in a Pawan Negi over that cost 22 runs. The Australian batsman’s 43-ball stay at the crease was laced with 15 fours and two massive sixes. Smith finally got rid of Maxwell – who was dropped while on 77 – after he swung the game in KXIP’s favour.
Miller (54), meanwhile, reached his half-century and brought the run-chase equation to under a run-a-ball. Thereafter, KXIP did not suffer any setbacks as George Bailey (17), who joined Miller in the middle, helped take his side over the line with a boundary.
Man of the Match: Glenn Maxwell for his match-winning knock of 95 (43 balls; 15x4; 2x6)