Nair fashions Royals' clinical chase
Rajasthan Royals 156 for 3 (Nair 73*, Samson 34) beat Delhi Daredevils 152 for 5 (de Kock 42, Duminy 39, Tambe 2-25) by seven wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Rajasthan Royals produced one of their better batting performances this season to keep pace with the two table leaders and no, the starring roles didn't feature Ajinkya Rahane or Shane Watson or Stuart Binny. There was one steadying hand from Sanju Samson to ensure the middling target was under control and a surprise promotion for Rajat Bhatia, but it was another young batsman, playing only his third game for the franchise, who reaffirmed Royals' narrative of being a moneyball outfit. Karun Nair, the Karnataka batsman who had scores of 8 and 1 in his previous two outings, was conservative to start with, but opened up in the second half of his innings to hit an unbeaten half-century to sink Delhi Daredevils by seven wickets.
A chase of 153 had tested Royals two years ago at the same ground when they had fallen a run short, but there were no such surprises this time as Royals built a solid foundation to set up the launch. In that first half, Nair had almost remained invisible in the shadow of Samson's strokeplay. He was on 29 off the first 30 balls he faced despite hitting three crisp boundaries. Maybe it was the dismissal of Samson or maybe it was the need to be assertive in the company of Bhatia, who was sent to provide some thrust to the innings, Nair's second half was in complete contrast to the first. His next 20 deliveries produced 44 runs that included five fours and two sixes, the second of which could have done Watson proud for its disdain.
Watson joined Nair towards the end of the innings and hit a couple of sixes too, but his - or his team management's - decision of sending Bhatia ahead of better batsmen proved to be one of his more effective strokes. Bhatia can bat, but he has never played as high as No. 4 in the IPL. His cross-batted slogs were not the most pleasing to the eye, but just like his bowling, his stand of 44 runs in five overs with Nair quickly deflated Daredevils bowling, especially with the danger of Watson looming.
Unlike Royals, Daredevils batting had been a three-part story, all quite different from each other, but adding up in the end to a fighting total. After being asked to bat, Quinton de Kock and M Vijay were not really fussed by the frequent change of bowlers by Royals and added a confident 33 runs for the first wicket before Vijay was caught at mid-off. The fall of wicket or the distractions involving the square-leg umpire, who let Kevin Pietersen off the hook by not reviewing a run-out call, didn't affect de Kock's approach as he went about picking his boundaries at a regular pace.
Daredevils were 68 for 1 when Pravin Tambe removed both de Kock, who was out caught and bowled, and Pietersen, who holed out at long-on, in the same over to signal the start of a period of Royals dominance. Only 32 runs came in the next six overs and it took an enterprising effort from JP Duminy and Kedar Jadhav to lift Delhi out from that hole.
Jadhav may have been lucky to get his first six - a top edge off James Faulkner - but none of his later shots were mis-hits. He finished the innings with a flourish, hitting one of the biggest sixes of the match in the last over and was unbeaten on 28 off 14 balls. Duminy as usual had played his part too in helping Delhi add 58 off the last five overs. It gave their bowlers a chance, but on a pitch that was a far cry from some of the slower surfaces Delhi has dished out in the past, it was always going to be a tough one to defend.
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo