Royals through; Knight Riders all but out
Rajasthan Royals 199 for 6 (Watson 104*, Russell 3-32) beat Kolkata Knight Riders 190 for 9 (Pathan 44, Morris 4-23) by nine runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Despite producing a gaffe-ridden performance, Rajasthan Royals managed to beat Kolkata Knight Riders by nine runs and booked their spot in the playoffs. Knight Riders are all but out of contention.
Chasing 200, Knight Riders needed 16 off the last over bowled by Chris Morris, but despite Umesh Yadav smashing an unbeaten 24 off 11 balls deep in the innings, they fell short. There were substantial cameos from Yusuf Pathan and Andre Russell, but Royals' seamers, led by Chris Morris, derailed their chase with wickets at critical junctures.
Royals' victory, though, was set up by Shane Watson's unbeaten 104 off 59 balls, his second century in Twenty20 cricket.
Knight Riders had a wobbly beginning, losing openers Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa inside the first three overs. But after a disciplined beginning, Royals' seamers lost their bearings, registering the second most number of wides (18) in any IPL game.
Pathan and Manish Pandey revived the innings with a 56-run stand, and after the latter departed, Pathan and Russell continued to target some patchy bowling. But, Morris' dismissals of Russell and Suryakumar Yadav in the 14th over altered the course of the game.
Knight Riders, though, weren't down for the count yet, with their long batting line-up chipping in handy hits to reduce the margin. That the Royals bowling was erratic only contributed to their resurgence.
With 36 required off 12 balls, Umesh threatened to snatch the game back by carting James Faulkner for 20 runs. Morris, however, dismissed Shakib Al Hasan off the first ball of the last over, and effectively killed off Knight Riders' chase.
When they opted to bat, Royals might have anticipated such a riposte from the opposition batsmen, having had an easy initiation into their innings themselves. Ajinkya Rahane and Watson delighted in whipping the ball through the off side off either foot. While Watson got into his low set-up to clatter drives through the cover, Rahane cracked a flat six over point. Together they went about knocking down a few records.
Even as Rahane and Watson completed 3000 and 4000 runs respectively in T20 cricket, Royals zoomed to 66 in six overs, their highest score in the Powerplay this IPL. Some of the momentum was curtailed after Rahane was run-out after Watson bailed on a tight second run. Royals, nevertheless, reached their 100 inside 10 overs for the first time this season. Their innings suffered a middle-overs blip with Russell sending back Steven Smith, Sanju Samson and James Faulkner in the space of four overs. Watson, though, was unaffected by the goings on, and progressively got better.
He kept hitting straight, not losing his shape all along. Azhar Mahmood came in for a lot of punishment, conceding 41 runs in three overs while Umesh, Morne Morkel and Shakib went for more than nine runs an over.
Both teams made a few strange selections with Knight Riders replacing Sunil Narine with Mahmood for his first game in IPL 2015. Royals, for their part, chose to play debutant left-arm seamer Brainder Sran, while omitting Rajat Bhatia and Pravin Tambe. The lack of variety in their attack, with no spinner, nearly cost them, but they clung on when it mattered the most.
Arun Venugopal is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo