Watson Rajasthan RoyalsIt could have been a lot easier for Rajasthan Royals, if they had not yielded a bundle of extras after batting marvelously earlier on. There was a bug in their bowling performance as they allowed KKR to come within 9 runs after scoring 199. RR skipper Steven Smith won the toss and rightly elected to bat first on a pitch that was lively and full of runs. Royals’ openers Ajinkya Rahane and Shane Watson lost no time in getting on top of KKR bowlers as the pace of scoring was set with 80-run opening wicket stand between them by 7th over. Rahane was unfortunately run out but Watson held the other hand with authority. RR mentor Rahul Dravid told media that having been relieved of the burden of captaincy, Watson concentrated on his batting and bowling under Smith. Despite wickets falling at the other end, Watson carried his bat through the 20-over innings and ensured that his team posted a match-winning total. When KKR came for the 200 run chase, they lost Gautam Gambhir in the first over and Robin Uthappa in the third. In the 14th, KKR reeled at 133/5. But there were some KKR batsmen, who batted with fierce determination and created a huge scare among RR bowlers and fielders. After Manish Pandey, Andre Russell and Yusuf Pathan raised hopes of the KKR recovery, Umesh Yadav almost emerged as an unlikely hero in closing stages. Yadav’s 11-ball 24 brought KKR to within a hand-shaking distance to the victory target. Finally, however, KKR fell short by 9 runs in a high-scoring match and paved the way of RR’s play-off entry.

Batting first after winning the toss, Ajinkya Rahane and Shane Watson played forcefully from the first over. Mumbai’s Brabourne Stadium was a sea of blue, being the adopted home for the Royals. The explosive start brought RR’s highest score of 66 in power-play overs this season and some records were made. Watson completed 4000 runs in T20 cricket and Rahane reached the 3000-run mark. There was some drop in momentum, when Rahane fell as a run-out victim in trying to attempt a difficult second run. Regardless, RR maintained a healthy 10-an-over run-rate as 100 was crossed inside 10 overs. Andre Russell applied the brakes in middle overs, when he accounted for Steven Smith, Sanju Samson and James Faulkner in 11th, 13th and the 15th overs. After that, Watson got good support from Karun Nair, who scored 16 off 10 balls. Watson remained not out for a 59-ball 104 that included 9 fours and 5 sixes and RR ended their 20 overs at 199/6.

Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa could not replicate their solid starts in several earlier matches, when they came out to chase 200 for victory. Gambhir fell in first over and Uthappa in the third. But Manish Pandey and Yusuf Pathan revived the KKR innings with a 56-run third wicket stand before Pandey departed. Pathan, however, found another feisty cricketer for company. As a forceful striker, Andre Russell has propped up KKR on several occasions this season. The two batsmen raised hopes of a possible victory and collected 55 runs for the fourth wicket, before Russell holed out to long-off. At this point, KKR lost the tempo as Suryakumar Yadav fell in the same over for a duck and Pathan departed in the 16th. In the 17th & 18th over KKR lost Azhar Mahmood and Piyush Chawala . With Shakib Al Hasan and Umesh Yadav left in the middle, KKR needed 41 runs for victory in the remaining 16 balls. When all seemed lost, Yadav came up with an unexpected 11-ball 24 run cameo that took KKR tantalizingly close to the target. Wayward bowling from RR helped KKR’s cause as they approached a dramatic finish in their favor. 16 runs were needed off the last 6 balls from Chris Morris and the way Yadav was going it looked a distinct possibility. But when Shakib Al Hasan got out of the first ball of the 20th over, KKR fell short by 9 runs and Royals marched into the play-off phase.