Watson and Warne sparkle in Rajasthan victory
Australian domination in the IPL continued as the two Shanes - Watson and Warne - starred with bat and ball respectively to power Rajasthan Royals to their maiden victory in the tournament, fittingly in front of their home crowd at the Sawai Man Singh Stadium. Shane Warne's 3 for 19 restricted Kings XI Punjab to what appeared to be a par score of 166 but the target was overhauled fairly comfortably, thanks to a fiery 49-ball 76 by Watson, supported by an unbeaten 36 by the young Ravindra Jadeja.
Rajasthan were pegged back early in their chase, losing their openers with the score on 19. Sreesanth induced a thin edge off his first delivery to send back Mohammad Kaif, while Yusuf Pathan returned a leading edge while trying to whip Brett Lee across the line. Kamran Akmal, fresh off a Twenty20 international for Pakistan against Bangladesh on Sunday, fended off a verbal assault from Sreesanth before falling to a well-judged catch by Piyush Chawla running backwards at deepish mid-on.
The fall of the third wicket put Watson on the defensive briefly. Sensing the need to build a partnership, he held one end up and waited patiently for the bad deliveries. Irfan Pathan got a couple to beat the bat but Punjab weren't prepared for the onslaught that was to come. One particular heave from Watson was so powerful it split the bat in half and yet just carried on over the long-on boundary. Wielding a new bat, Watson took on James Hopes, lofting one over his head on one knee, before nearly decapitating Irfan with a straight drive.
That shot dented not only Irfan's psyche but also that of the Punjab side as Watson and Darren Lehmann added 51 off 39 balls. The partnership got the home crowd more animated as Watson approached his fifty by launching one over the roof at cow corner. However, just before the stroke of 100, Lehmann was squared up by an Irfan delivery which jagged back in sharply.
The dismissal brought Jadeja, one of India's Under-19 stars, to the middle and his reputation as a big hitter was justified with some cracking strokes through the off side. As if armed with a license to destroy, he flat-batted Sreesanth past the covers before lashing the same bowler past deep backward point. Lee too wasn't spared and the ball scorched to the boundary almost as quickly as the ball left his hand. The pair brought up their 50 stand off a mere 29 balls before Watson aptly sealed the deal with a whip past midwicket.
Punjab had the luck with the toss but their power-packed top order, boosted by Mahela Jayawardene's inclusion, couldn't quite push on, with the exception of Yuvraj Singh. The flat deck left very little margin for error and the Punjab batsmen picked up boundaries aplenty by merely driving through the line, adjusting easily to the length of the ball. Karan Goel and Kumar Sangakkara showed scant respect to Siddharth Trivedi and Munaf Patel, fetching boundaries regularly. Unfortunately, both perished against the run of play. Munaf had the last laugh, sending Goel's off stump out of the ground with a yorker while Warne ended Sangakkara's eight-ball cameo with a sharp return catch. Hopes, fresh after his 71 in the opening game, became Warne's second victim after attempting a slog. Hopes was subdued by the fall of wickets at the other end and his attempt at hitting out only cost him his wicket.
Yuvraj, the Punjab captain, signalled his arrival with a blazing straight drive off his first ball. Rajasthan however had only themselves to blame for not halting his charge. Lehmann spilled a skier at mid-off when Yuvraj was on 15 and there was further shock when Mohammad Kaif, one of the safest catchers, made a complete mess of a straightforward chance at point with Yuvraj at 29.
Yuvraj greeted Trivedi's return with a merciless biff past extra cover before taking on the spinners. Dinesh Salunkhe and Yusuf were clattered on the roof over deep midwicket, his third six bringing up his half-century. However, it was 'that' man Warne again who stemmed the rot, cleverly cutting back on the pace and deceiving Yuvraj on the sweep. While the other spinners were getting pasted, Warne kept the pressure from his end and gave little away. Punjab had lost three wickets for no run and it took a 11-ball 24 by Piyush Chawla to push them to what turned out to be only a satisfactory score.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a staff writer at Cricinfo