By Suhas Nayse – SJFI Member
Abu Dhabi: The race for playoffs in the thirteenth edition of the Dream11 Indian Premier League is getting exciting by every passing day as Rajasthan Royals stopped the five-match winning run of Kings XI Punjab with a brilliant seven-wicket victory on Friday. Thanks to the comprehensive win at the Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi, RR kept their chances alive with twelve points in 13 matches. Chris Gayle’s majestic 99 went in vain for KXIP.
The sixth victory helped RR to move up to the fifth position in the points tally. Despite the defeat, KXIP remained on the fourth spot with 12 points. Both RR and KXIP have to win their last match with big margins to seal a berth among the top-4 teams. The competition is quite open now as there are as many as six teams vying for the remaining three slots. So far, Mumbai Indians is the only team to make it to the playoffs.
Chasing a daunting target of 186, RR romped home losing three wickets with 15 balls to spare. Ben Stokes emerged as the chief architect of the RR win with an extraordinary all-round display. After bagging a couple of wickets early in the day, Stokes shone with the bat too. Opening the innings with Robin Uthappa, Stokes was stroking the ball with power and precision from the word go. The big left-handed batsman plundered a quick-fire fifty off 26 balls which was studded with six fours and three maximums.
Such was his domination early in the innings that when he got out on 50, the team’s score was 60. Uthappa then took over and began to play aggressive shots. Uthappa (30: 23 balls, 1×4, 2×6) and Sanju Samson (48: 25 balls, 4×4, 3×6) stitched together crucial 51 runs stand for the second wicket by maintaining the good run-rate.
Samson continued to dominate KXIP bowling attack with a series of excellent shots. When he was going for great guns, he was run out by a direct throw from point by substitute fielder Suchith. It was a bad judgement by both Samson and Smith as there was no single there. Smith then took the onus on him and guided his side to win in the company of Jos Butler. While Smith remained unbeaten on 31, Buttler played a little cameo of 22 not out off 11 deliveries.
Earlier, the ‘Universe Boss’ Gayle was in his element as he thrashed RR bowlers to all corners of the ground to help his team amass 185 for 4 after being put in to bat. Although Gayle missed his much-deserved hundred, he helped his team put up a strong total on the board. The giant opener was in an ‘aeroplane mode’ as he rained sixes and fours at will.
Gayle’s 99 (63 balls, 6×4, 8×6) was the biggest contribution in the KXIP innings. Skipper KL Rahul (46: 41 balls, 3×4, 2×6) and Gayle added a 120 runs for the second wicket to set the tone for the innings, before another West Indies star Nicholas Pooran (22 off just 10 balls with three sixes) contributed some massive hits in the death overs.
Gayle and Rahul gave an early momentum to their team after lethal speedster Jofra Archer removed last match hero Mandeep for a duck in the first over. The left-right combination of Gayle and Rahul came up with a counter-attack after Archer’s early strike and added a solid century plus partnership in quick time.
Gayle departed in the final over and needed a spot-on yorker from Archer to get the job done in the end. Gayle now has two 99 run dismissals after last season’s similar score against RCB. Only Archer (2-26) and Ben Stokes (2-32) bowled well for RR as other bowlers struggled to cope up with the onslaught of Gayle’s tremendous batting.
There will be a double header on Saturday. In the first outing, table toppers Mumbai Indians will face Delhi Capitals at Dubai, while Royal Challengers Bangalore will lock horns with Sunrisers Hyderabad at Sharjah.
Brief scores: Kings XI Punjab 185 for 4 in 20 overs (Chris Gayle 99, KL Rahul 46, Nicholas Pooran 22, Glenn Maxwell 6 not out; Jofra Archer 2-26, Ben Stokes 2-32) lost to Rajasthan Royals 186 for 3 in 17.3 overs (Ben Stokes 50, Sanju Samson 48, Steve Smith 31 not out, Robin Uthappa 30, Jos Butler 22 not out; Murugan Ashwin 1-43, Chris Jordan 1-44) by 7 wickets. Man-of-the-match: Ben Stokes (Rajasthan Royals).