The Ring of Fire at Dubai decorated itself for another nail-biting thriller as the IPL bandwagon moves on to the tensed stages of the tournament. RR and SRH faced off or, to be more precise 2 Australian mates faced off in a virtual eliminator. The journey of these 2 cricketers has been incredible in the last 2 years as they recovered from that controversial sandpaper saga and reinstated their focus on the game of cricket. Both Smith and Warner have been prolific for Australia, since their return to cricket last year. Now it was their turn to stand against each other and ensure a playoff spot for their respective IPL teams.

Warner won the toss and chose to field- an extremely unusual decision considering the present tournament trend. In addition to that, the injury to Williamson meant that the SRH batting order had been further weakened and it made more sense behind batting first. Anyway, Smith stated that they would have batted first as well, and hence, both the teams got to do what they wanted.

Once again, a mistake from Smith to send out Stokes and Uthappa at the top. It is very weird why the uneasiness of Stokes in the opening slot is not visible to Smith at all. In the last 3 matches, he was ultra-aggressive. In today’s match, he was ultra-defensive, scoring at less than run-a-ball on a balter of a pitch. Clearly, Stokes is confused, having to play a role that he is not used to playing for England.   

Robin Uthappa was timing the ball exceedingly well, only for the second time in the tournament. However, he was unfortunate to be dismissed via a runout after a decent start. Samson carried on his present trend in the tournament of scoring beautiful 20s. It is tough to imagine the ease and the temperament that was displayed by Samson in the first few matches of this season. Since those brutal innings in Sharjah, it has been a downhill curve for the Kerala wicketkeeper and today’s performance just demonstrated the extrapolation of that curve.

Jason Holder’s addition to the SRH bowling lineup bolstered the SRH attack tonight. Though Holder is not express pace, he puts a lot of brain into his bowling and it becomes difficult to keep hitting him off the length. For the first time, since the departure of Bhuvi, SRH looked to have that Sting back in the attack once again. Holder accounted for Samson, Smith, and Riyan Parag to keep the RR restricted to a subpar score.

However, the real hero with the ball for SRH was Vijay Shankar who once again proved to be an excellent 6th bowler for his franchise. He was economical and took the all-important wicket of Butler to pull back the Rajasthan score by at least 15-20 runs. Rashid Khan was at his potent best yet again, reigning supreme in the middle overs, as he scalped the wicket of a struggling Stokes and concede just 20 from his 4 overs.

With a light batting lineup in the absence of Williamson, both Warner and Bairstow fell to the express 150 kmph pace of Jofra early in the inning. With just Manish Pandey as the batsman with subsequent international experience, SRH looked done and dusted. However, another patchy captaincy from Smith ensured that SRH could capitalize on it. Archer had picked 2 wickets in his first 2 overs in the powerplay. Despite knowing that dismissing Pandey would close the match for SRH, Smith did not give Archer the 3rd over- a mistake that cost RR the match.

Manish Pandey built an excellent inning of 83 from 46 deliveries to take SRH home. He was particularly severe on the young Tyagi and the legspinner Gopal. Manish Pandey in the groove can win matches regularly for his side and today was an ideal example of the same. Vijay Shankar played ideal second fiddle ensuring that Manish got the required support from the other end. Shankar scored a well compiled 52 off 51 deliveries to take his team to victory.

Smith has looked out of sorts with the leadership of RR this year and now RR’s hopes of qualifying depend on the other teams. SRH, on the other hand, can qualify if they in all their remaining matches from here on. With the form of Pandey and the addition of Holder in the attack, SRH looks good to compete with KXIP and KKR for the 4th spot in the playoffs.