Serene Smith guides Royals to third straight win
Rajasthan Royals 165 for 3 (Smith 79*, Rahane 46) beat Mumbai Indians 164 for 5 (Pollard 70, Anderson 50) by seven wickets
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A perfectly paced unbeaten 79 from Steven Smith anchored a chase of 165 and steered Rajasthan Royals to a seven-wicket win over Mumbai Indians. It was Royals' third win in three games and Mumbai's third loss in three. Once again, Mumbai's top order failed, and even though Corey Anderson and Kieron Pollard gave their innings an explosive finish, their sluggish start proved the difference between the two sides.
Royals kept wickets in hand through their chase, and built momentum steadily, with a 64-run second-wicket stand between Ajinkya Rahane and Smith laying the foundation for the final charge. When Rahane was dismissed, Royals needed 73 from 41 balls, with eight wickets in hand.
Deepak Hooda, promoted to number four, provided some of the impetus, lofting Shreyas Gopal for two massive sixes in one over, before Lasith Malinga took out his leg stump after spotting him walking too far across his stumps. This left 52 to get from 31.
At the fall of Hooda's wicket, Smith was on 35 off 31, and had struck two fours and no sixes. The change of gears was swift, and it happened in the 17th over. Malinga speared his first two balls into the blockhole. The first one was straight and Smith walked across to clip him over midwicket. The next one was a bit wider to compensate. Smith opened his bat face and steered him past backward point. Fifteen came off that over and Royals were left needing 24 from 18 balls; they got home with five balls remaining.
Having chosen to bat, Mumbai were going well enough - 24 for 0 in the middle of the fourth over - when Aaron Finch, stretching for the final stride of a quick single, pulled up with what looked like a hamstring strain. That stalled the momentum the openers had gathered; only four runs came off that over, and Parthiv Patel, coming back on strike after Unmukt Chand managed only one run off the first three balls of the next over, miscued a Dhawal Kulkarni slower ball straight to mid-off. When Rohit Sharma nicked a Stuart Binny outswinger to slip in the seventh over, Mumbai were 31 for 2 - effectively 31 for 3 - and their run-rate had dipped below six an over.
By the 10-over mark they had lost Chand and were 45 for 3. Only one run came off the 11th over, bowled by Chris Morris, who kept cramping the left-handed Anderson for room, jagging the ball into him off the pitch and extracting awkward bounce on a couple of occasions to rap him on the handle and the gloves.
With some balls skidding through and others stopping on the batsmen, runs were looking extremely hard to get. But Anderson and Pollard stayed alert for the slower balls, ensured they maintained stable bases, and began finding the big hits. Both picked up sixes off James Faulkner in the 14th over, and the run-rate climbed back above five an over.
The recovery seemed to have ended when Anderson mishit another Kulkarni slower ball straight to long-off in the 15th over, but replays showed the bowler had overstepped, just about. It was just the sort of luck Mumbai needed after injury to Finch, and they made full use of it. They were 83 for 3 after 15 overs; over the next five overs they came within two runs of doubling their score.
Tim Southee, bowling primarily length or just short of it, took the bulk of the punishment - his last two overs went for 36, with Pollard and Anderson hitting him for four fours and three sixes - but no one went unscathed. James Faulkner went for 17 in the 17th over, and Chris Morris, till then the pick of Royals' seamers, went for 15 in the final over.
Anderson kept his plans simple - clear his front leg and swing freely to hit down the ground and over the leg side. Pollard dealt in his trademark one-handed clubs and flat-bat swats down the ground, but also pulled off a couple of stunning flicked sixes. Given the fact that the bowlers were generally looking to go full, and given both batsmen's power in the V, it was a little strange to see mid-off in the circle and fine leg back on the rope on a couple of occasions. By the end, though, Smith's batting would ensure his tactics became a distant memory.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo