The match between the Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab at the MCA stadium Pune on Friday was akin to the Australian World Cup winning stars splitting themselves in two groups and playing one another. Shane Watson was a non-starter as he picked up a niggling injury but the stand-in captain, Steven Smith has collected much better credentials of late. He led Australia ably most summer and then played a stellar role in World Cup games. Rajasthan also had another Australian, who stole the show with his superb all-round performance. James Faulkner has done this earlier so there was no surprise in the way he guided the RR innings. He used the power of his upper arms and applied common sense in ensuring that his team reaches a challenging 162. Until Faulkner got into his Houdini act, KXIP looked like finishing off the Royals, who were 75/5 in the 11th over. Faulkner played sensibly until the score reached 110/5 in the 15th over and then he exploded. His 46 off 33 balls proved to be the decisive factor in the end as RR comfortably romped home with a 26-run victory against 2014 runners up.
George Bailey won the toss and took to the field. Within no time, Rajasthan Royals were in deep trouble. Sandeep Sharma and Anureet Singh pressurized openers Ajinkya Rahane and Sanju Samson. Rahane departed in the second over, when he misread a ball and the miscued lofted shot landed for the easiest of catches for Axar Patel at Mid-off. Rahane lasted just 8 balls for no score. Sanju Samson was the next to go in the third over, when Sandeep Sharma struck the batsman above the knee-roll to extract an LBW decision. Skipper Steve Smith had already walked in at the fall of Rahane’s wicket and he kept his end sealed. Karun Nair did not look comfortable and runs had stopped coming. In the seventh over, Axar Patel produced an arm ball that was quicker and flatter and as Karun Nair shaped to play it over midwicket. He missed the line completely and his middle stump was knocked back with RR being reduced to 35/3. Smith and next man Stuart Binny added 39 runs for the fourth wicket but Rajasthan’s woes were compounded with Smith getting out after a 23-ball 33. It was Mitchell Johnson who claimed Smith in the 11th over, when the batsman tried to play an away-going ball but his bat got a top edge that was easily taken by Karanveer Singh. In the same over, Johnson also removed Binny, who nicked the ball to the keeper. 75/5 was decidedly a bad score but Faulkner and Deepak Hooda kept their heads down and collected 51 runs for the sixth wicket. After Hooda’s fall, Faulkner didn’t have any support but he didn’t mind. He blasted everything that came his way and fell only in the 20th over and RR finished with 162/7.
Coming back to defend 162, RR began with a great bowling act with fantastic support from the fielders. It began with the first ball from Tim Southee that was swinging away. Virender Sehwag had a go at it but the nick that he got was brilliantly held by Sanju Samson diving to his right. Murali Vijay was doing well with Wriddhiman Saha but Samson came up with some electrifying acts in the field. In the third over from Southee, the ball hit Saha’s boots and went to the leg side. Samson was alert as he collected and threw in one action without taking off his gloves with Saha still out of the crease. Samson had his share in the fourth wicket as well, when Axar Patel set off for a non-existent run and Samson threw under arm to hit the stumps before Vijay could reach. In between Southee caught the dangerous Glenn Maxwell, who tried to hoist Faulkner but lobbed the ball over mid-off. 64/4 in the in the 9th over, when Vijay got out, left KXIP in the lurch. But Axar Patel, David Miller and George Bailey gave them some hope. The asking rate was ballooning up and as KXIP lost wickets, there was no one to see them through. After notching up the highest score for RR, Faulkner also ended up taking three wickets as KXIP innings folded at 132/8. It was a well-deserved 26 run victory for RR, who excelled in every department of the game. Faulkner was rightly adjudged the Player of the Match.