Warne gatecrashes Symonds' party
Shane Warne inspired Rajasthan Royals to a sensational come-from-behind win against Deccan Chargers by capping outstanding leadership and canny bowling with a 17-run charge in the last over.
The three-wicket victory - which was decided, for the second successive day, off the penultimate ball of the match - made Rajasthan the first team in the IPL to chase down a 200-plus score. They now lie fourth with four points from three games while Deccan, for whom Andrew Symonds scored a century and bowled the fateful final over, lost their third match in a row and remain at the bottom of the table.
In the penultimate over, it had seemed Rajasthan were out of the chase with RP Singh effecting two dismissals and conceding only six runs. Before that Shahid Afridi and Symonds had bowled in tandem to keep the scoring under check between overs 12 and 14, but Mohammad Kaif changed all that in the next where he hit three sixes off Symonds. Afridi dismissed Shane Watson, Kaif and Graeme Smith and conceded only 28 runs. But having exhausted his main bowlers, VVS Laxman was forced to turn to Symonds for the decisive last over.
That began with the odds stacked against Rajasthan. Pankaj Singh took three off the first two balls before giving the strike to Warne. He then hit a four over Symonds' head, leaving ten to get off the last three balls. Warne needed just two of them, off which he hit consecutive sixes to spark scenes of wild celebrations among his team-mates.
What set up the chase, though, was the 98-run partnership between Yusuf Pathan and Smith. The two were mindful of the run-rate they had to maintain right from the start and went past 100 in 8.3 overs, which made Rajasthan the fastest side to get to that figure in the tournament.
Yusuf belied his lithe frame to get the ball into the stands several times while recording the fastest fifty of the tournament. He didn't move his feet much but used all his strength as he reached out and swung his bat at everything. He fell in similar fashion, not moving his feet when he reached for a wide one off D Kalyankrishna and found Symonds at long-off. Smith was more conventional though equally attacking. He drove down the ground and cut behind third man for boundaries.
Test cricket had been unlucky not to witness Warne as captain. Before his last-over heroics, he used his bowlers effectively to dent Deccan's start. He brought on Yusuf in the third over - to replace Munaf Patel, who went for 12 in his opening effort - and was rewarded with the wickets of Adam Gilchrist and Afridi. Though Symonds more than made up for the poor start, Rajasthan's target could have been much higher had Gilchrist built on his three fours. Warne also made Yusuf bat at No. 3 for the second game in a row, after getting him to open in their first match.
Laxman's captaincy was very poor in comparison - his decision to open the innings with Gilchrist failed, as did his bowling change in the sixth over to bring on left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, who went for 16 runs. But even Warne had no tricks against Symonds, who showed his two initial failures were blips with an innings that included powerful straight fours and sixes mostly by making room in the crease.
He did not indulge in unconventional strokes - except a short ball that he pulled tennis-style late in the innings - and stuck mostly to back-foot drives and flicks. He reached his half-century off 29 balls and then took only 18 more to get to the fastest hundred of the tournament. His 111-run partnership with Rohit Sharma, who scored a half-century in the previous match, ruined the Rajasthan bowlers' early efforts. Now Deccan will have to rethink their bowling strategies after losing a game that was firmly in their grasp.
Nishi Narayanan is a staff writer at Cricinfo