Unbeaten Royals get home semi-final
Rajasthan Royals 142 for 6 (Hodge 52*, Rahane 52) beat Otago 139 for 7 (Neesham 32, Shukla 3-23) by four wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Fancy beating Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur? Forget it. Royals extended their winning streak at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium to 12, beating the confident Otago by four wickets to keep the semi-final options open in Group A. Royals progressed briskly initially in their chase of a middling 140, stuttered after their middle order fell to rash strokes, before Brad Hodge played the rescue act with an electric 52 to stall Otago's spirited recovery. Though Royals had already booked their place in the knockouts, there was still some context in this match, for this victory means they will stay back in Jaipur for their semi-final.
A further 15-20 runs could have made the difference for Otago. Having scored a mammoth 242 earlier in the tournament, their impressive top order was blown away by the relatively unknown Rahul Shukla. The Jharkhand seamer came in as a replacement for Vikramjeet Malik and in the space of six balls, he proved it to be an inspired selection. Bowling the fourth over, he struck with his first ball, removing Hamish Rutherford's middle stump as the batsman looked to play across the line. Two balls later, he got rid of the captain Brendon McCullum trapped in front with one that came in. There was room for one more wicket in the over and it came via a bizarre shot by Derek de Boorder.
It got worse for Otago when the in-form Neil Broom perished to a top edge off Shane Watson, leaving them reeling at 21 for 4. Otago's progress in the tournament was orchestrated by meaty contributions by the top order. Now they found themselves in a situation they weren't accustomed to, and it was up to the lower order to cover the slack.
James Neesham gave the innings some impetus with a quick 32, but he was lucky to have been let off on 0, when the umpire Paul Reiffel failed to notice a thick inside edge on the way to the keeper. Nathan McCullum and Ian Butler ensured Otago played out 20 overs, their cameos pushing the score to 139. While it was below par, from 21 for 4, it was an improvement.
Ajinkya Rahane got Royals off to a rapid start with some exquisite shots through the off side off the seamers. Rahane got his timing and placement perfect, taking Royals to 43 at the end of the Powerplay. Nathan McCullum's sharp reflexes at point, running backwards to pluck a catch to send back Rahul Dravid, was temporary relief, but Rahane's was the wicket they needed.
The middle order needed to bat around Rahane but Royals put pressure on themselves with some questionable shots. Sanju Samson played on to his stumps and both Shane Watson and Stuart Binny departed quickly edging behind. Rahane passed his fifty but fell chipping a full toss to mid-off. The boundaries dried up and the drought lasted five overs before Hodge released the pressure with a boundary over cover. Two balls later, he slogged a slower ball and got a lucky top edge that cleared the keeper.
Hodge ensured at least one boundary off every over. He made room to James McMillan and carved a six over third man and in the same over smashed one over extra cover, beating Neesham's dive. With 24 needed off the last three overs, it was still even and Ian Butler did well conceding only four runs off the first four balls. Hodge changed the complexion of the over with a six and four off consecutive balls to bring the equation firmly back in Royals' favour.
Dravid later described it as a nerve-wracking period in the game, but it was Hodge's experience that made the difference.
As for Otago's semi-final hopes, they will wait on the result of the Mumbai Indians-Perth Scorchers match on Wednesday. If Mumbai win, it will come down to a net run rate scenario between Mumbai and Otago.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo