Mount Watson overflows with runs
The role reversal
Kolkata Knight Riders, the master of big chases in bigger games. Rajasthan Royals, the master of uneventful exits. It was a no-brainer who were the favourites at the Brabourne Stadium.
Despite the strong start to Royals' innings, despite their mid-innings slowdown, despite their 199, Knight Riders were never really out of it. They had conquered such chases to win finals.
The camera, thus, searched for Rahul Dravid in the dugout every time a Knight Riders batsman tore into the bowling, his stony-faced stare hiding the possible twitchiness. Shah Rukh Khan, Knight Riders' face in the stands, was similarly reserved, keeping his nervousness and enthusiasm all bottled up.
It came down to the last over, to the last pair, the hope forbidding to leave Knight Riders, the shadow of despair not too far from Royals. It ended soon, neither with a six nor a wicket, but with quiet hugs and handshakes. No one charged madly to the middle, no one screamed out loud and no one threw a cap.
The man mountain
Shane Watson's roar that echoed around the Brabourne Stadium was perhaps also a sigh of relief. Royals had lost the momentum of four consecutive wins since his return, forcing him to step aside and concentrate on his role as an allrounder. That he held his arms aloft in the direction of the dressing room and let the applause soak in was a reminder to others of his value.
The 104 not out may have come off 59 balls but it included a period of careful consolidation. In that sense, it was not typical Watson mayhem. After Rahane's departure, he let others take risks, and only chose to go big when presented with a half-volley. "It's as good as I have batted for a while," he said after the match. Take his innings out and Royals might have struggled to reach the eventual score. The arms were up again when it came down to 11 off the last ball.
The Morris effect
On a pitch made for batting, there was just one antidote and fortunately for Royals only they had it. Chris Morris picked up three wickets in his previous outing and found some help first ball after the ball had barely beaten the bat in Royals' innings. By the end of the over, he found it for the second time, stinging Gautam Gambhir with a sharp bouncer.
As he took a breather, Knight Riders found a second wind, Yusuf and Andre Russell hitting around the ground to catch up with the rate. The bowlers became fodder as Russell found his range. Morris, all this while, was held back.
On a day when even Morne Morkel struggled to make an impact, Morris had the genie of lateral movement. Russell, facing him for the first time in the 14th over, did not account for it and ended up toe-ending a swipe to long-off. Two balls later, one darted away and took Suryakumar Yadav's outside edge.
Morris was held back for five more overs, during which time Knight Riders found more fuel. Asked to defend 15 in the last over, Morris killed it in one ball, ending Shakib Al Hasan's stay. Game over.
The opening duet
Ajinkya Rahane and Watson. It's not often you get an opening pair that uses methods polar opposite to each other with the same devastating effect. Within two overs, both presented evidence that they had brought their top game. The contrast was worth noting. Watson using all that power and muscle to hit consecutive fours, both skimming the grass all the way through to the rope while Rahane, his bat moving like a wand, steered Morkel for a six over point.
The two maneuvered or smashed the ball as per the need. But more than the big hits, the running had been aggressive, especially from Rahane. Twice, in the sixth over, Rahane charged to the danger end to give Watson a pair of twos. But an over later, when it was Watson's turn to run for his partner, he pulled out late and left his partner in no man's land. The two had been flawless till then, helping Royals to an imposing 80 in seven overs.
The first timers
Azhar replaced Sunil Narine, who had bowled a ripper to Rohit Sharma two days ago. Narine might not have extracted the same help here, but perhaps would have been more testing with the bigger boundaries at the Brabourne. Azhar has a wealth of experience, but he looked rusty, overstepping a couple of times, while presenting plenty of easy deliveries. His three overs went for 41.
Azhar maybe a known name but Sran is not. He played first-class cricket in 2011 for Punjab before disappearing. If there were nerves, he did not show them at the start. The tall left-armer bowled a superb first over, troubling batsmen with bounce as well as pace. Then he cracked, leaking 29 runs from his last two overs.
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo