Warne leads Rajasthan to emphatic win
Cosmetic surgery? Moisturiser? Who cares? Shane Warne is still ripping them legbreaks. He is still getting vicious dip and drift. He is still producing key wickets - tonight those of Brad Hodge and the top-scorers Parthiv Patel and Ravindra Jadeja - to keep Rajasthan Royals alive in the tournament. On a pitch where the bounce varied from shoulder to shin-high off similar lengths, Kochi Tuskers Kerala threatened to convert their ordinary start into a decent total, but Warne came back to remove both Parthiv and Jadeja off successive deliveries to end the 48-run fourth-wicket partnership. The resultant target was sub-par even on the slightly two-paced pitch, and Rahul Dravid and Shane Watson ensured there were no hiccups in the chase, with a 71-run opening stand.
Rajasthan were right at home in conditions that their two spinners and predominantly slower-ball bowlers enjoy. They also had the injured Johan Botha back, who removed Mahela Jayawardene with the first ball he bowled. It all started inauspiciously for Kochi, with Brendon McCullum missing out because of a bad shoulder. His replacement, VVS Laxman, ran himself out. Botha came on and turned one across Jayawardene, and with some help from the protruding thigh pad, the ball found a way into the stumps. Warne did Brad Hodge in with one that kept low. As a consequence of those big wickets, once Kochi's run-rate fell below six in the fifth over, it never crossed that mark.
Rajasthan's international bowlers - Warne, Botha and Watson - went for 58 in 12 overs between them. Warne even found time to settle a personal score. He welcomed Ravindra Jadeja, who had tried to move away from his franchise last year and was banned in the process, with a bouncer at 110kph. Jadeja and Parthiv, though, kept their heads and put Kochi on their way to what could have been a defendable target. They picked their battles wisely, taking risks against the domestic bowlers, running hard, not looking for ambitious shots.
At 88 for 3 after 15 overs, though, they decided they needed to push for more runs, especially considering it was the expected dew that had made Rajasthan field first on this pitch. Jadeja came down to Warne, who bowled the straighter one and got a thick edge along the ground. Two balls later Jadeja tried the slog sweep, but this one bounced at him, taking the top edge. Back-pedalling, Warne completed the catch around mid-on. Parthiv lost his head next ball, trying the reverse-sweep, and was stumped off a slider.
After that Kochi lost their way with new batsman struggling to time the ball on the slow track. In all, seven wickets fell for 21 runs. The momentum continued into the second innings as Watson smashed the first ball to the cover boundary. Dravid took over from there, playing proper cricketing shots to counter the tricky pitch. He also hit the first six of the match shortly before running himself out, going for an ambitious second run. At 71 for 1, only formalities remained, but Watson pushed the rate up, ensuring the target was achieved with 5.5 overs to spare, giving Rajasthan's net run-rate a boost.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo