KXIP vs RR was a second eliminator we were treated to in successive days. After the thriller between CSK and KKR last night, we were in for another mouth-watering clash. The stakes were high as both KXIP and RR needed to win the match to stay in contention for the playoffs. If RR lost this match, they will be out of the competition officially. They have not been ascertained a place in the top 4 even if they win this one, but at least there would be hope. For KXIP, the calculation was simpler. If they win this one against RR and go on to win the next match against CSK as well, they would qualify for the playoffs irrespective of the results of the other matches.
Steve Smith won toss and chose to chase – a very set tournament pattern, as teams are chasing with the dew setting in at the later half of the inning. KXIP looked happy to bat first as well and set a target with their explosive top order.
KXIP batting was so much about Chris Gayle tonight. There is a reason why Chris Gayle’s game hasn’t waned at all in spite of being 41. There are certain attributes to a batsman that wanes with age. The foremost about them is footwork and next is hand-eye coordination. For most batsmen in their late 30s, they struggle to pick up the length of the ball early, and even if they do, their body just doesn’t react fast enough. We have seen this for Sachin, Dhoni as well as Ganguly in their wee years of IPL, that perhaps they know from years of experience that this ball needs to be driven straight down the ground, but their reflex is not fast enough to execute it.
Gayle has never depended on footwork throughout his career. So, the fact that his footwork has slowed down with age bears no effect on his game. Even in his prime, he did not have too many shots in his repertoire. He has always looked to pull any ball that is even just short of good length or demolish it with a horizontal batted shot straight down the ground if there is room. For full balls, he tried to hit them out of the ground. So, even with age, though his reflexes have slowed down, he does not need to rummage through a lot of shots in his mind before executing it. Against Spinners, he has never picked up the spin variant from the hand of the spinner. He has either slog-swept or despatched the spinner straight down the ground. Thus, his waning eyesight does not land him in soup against spinners as well. The uncomplicated nature of Gayle’s batting is what is resulting in his sustenance in top-level cricket for so long.
Tonight he demolished the RR attack as he scored 99 off 63 deliveries, only to be dismissed by a brilliant yorker off Jofra to miss his century. Except for Jofra, Gayle took everybody else to the cleaners tonight. Varun Aaron, Tyagi, or Shreyas Gopal looked hapless against the legendary West Indian. Smith did everything in his control to dislodge Gayle. He even brought Jofra onto the attack in the middle overs to take Gayle’s wicket. But when the Universe Boss is in form, there is only so much you can do except admiring his game.
Rahul chipped in with 46 and Poran played a cameo of 22 to take the team to a score of 185-4 – definitely above par on the surface. Stokes and Archer were the only 2 bright spots in the RR bowling line up and the 4 economical overs from Stokes ensured that KXIP did not cross 200.
Stokes succeeded for RR at the top yet again, for the second match in a row. It is great to see Smith’s strategy of using Stokes as a disruptor of the opposition bowling attack is working out in his favor. Tonight he scored 50 off 26 balls to give RR the impetus needed in the initial overs to chase such a high target. He threw Arshdeep and Shami off their lines with brutal hitting in the powerplay. It is a high-risk high return strategy that Smith has decided to apply with Stokes and it looks pretty when it pays off.
While Stokes provided the initial impetus with the bat, it was the partnership between Uthappa and Samson that would be the biggest positive for RR in this match. Both of them have had an indifferent past few matches and the responsibility has always fallen on Smith and Butler to take RR out of trouble.
The 51 run partnership between Uthappa and Samson ensured that Smith and Butler were not left to do too much except closing out the chase. Dew played a massive role in today’s match as both Bishnoi and Murugan were rendered ineffective with the wet ball. The fact, that in spite of unfavorable conditions, Bishnoi conceded only 27 off his 4 overs speak volumes about the capability of this young kid.
Samson returned to form after quite a few matches and scored a vital 48 to take RR to the doors of victory. Smith and Butler ensured that there was no choking in the end, as RR exploited some wayward bowling from Shami in the death overs. With this victory over KXIP, suddenly the table has been thrown open, as now the 4th team to the playoffs will qualify with a maximum of 14 points. SRH will be the happiest as they have the best NRR. But this year IPL has thrown weird circumstances. What will be next?