Watson seals tense win for Rajasthan
Shane Watson first used the uneven bounce of the Jaipur pitch to keep the Delhi Daredevils in check, then batted as if it didn't exist to bludgeon 74 off 40 balls and maintain the Rajasthan Royals' 100% record at home. The win, based once again on Shane Warne's strategy of winning the toss, inserting the opposition and restricting them to a gettable total, keeps Rajasthan at the top of the points table and pushes Delhi down to fifth place.
Though Delhi fought hard to defend their total, the match was more or less decided in the first innings when Rajasthan's bowlers checked the run-scoring to the extent that the first six came in the 18th over. Watson was the first to inject doubt and uneasiness in the Delhi openers' minds when he used the short ball to repeatedly beat their bats. Gautam Gambhir leaned out to reach for one that lifted from back of a length and swished wildly in the air, Virender Sehwag's attempted pull off another narrowly missed the edge.
Watson's first spell, where he went for 15 off three overs, was followed by more miserly bowling in the middle overs. Munaf Patel varied his length and bowled to his field to choke the runs; Siddharth Trivedi managed to get movement off the seam and troubled Gambhir before knocking over his off stump. Dimitri Mascarenhas, who went for 12 runs in his first over, came back in his second spell to get the wickets of AB de Villiers and Dinesh Karthik in the same over. He finished with figures of 4-0-29-2 in his only IPL match this season and completely justified his selection.
Rajasthan's fielders lent excellent support, cutting off singles and saving boundaries. Watson, fielding at mid-on, cut a certain four to two runs after de Villiers stroked the ball through extra cover; he ran sideways towards the ball, threw himself at it ball and got his left hand around it just before it would have raced past him. Even Munaf, one of the more sluggish fielders in the Indian side, was in the thick of things, trying to throw down the stumps and diving to save runs.
At the end of 17 overs, Delhi were dead and buried at 109 for 6. Then Farveez Maharoof and Tillakaratne Dilshan broke free to add 47 in the final three, making this much more of a contest and giving the Delhi attack something to defend.
Rajasthan had an uncertain and nervy start to their chase as Maharoof and Glenn McGrath made use of the uneven bounce in the first five overs, in which 15 runs were scored. The openers were repeatedly beaten off the pitch and the pressure eventually told as Graeme Smith sent back Yusuf Pathan, who'd set off for a single. But AB de Villiers, running in from mid-off and diving full length, hit the stumps before Yusuf could get back in. In the next over Smith tapped the ball to midwicket and set off but Mohammad Kaif was caught ball-watching and had to sacrifice his wicket.
Enter Watson, exit pitch issues as he and Smith put on a 71-run stand that pretty much took the game away from Delhi. Both were given lives - Smith was dropped in the first over when he was yet to score, Watson when he was on 26 - that came as a sharp contrast to the excellent fielding in the first innings.
They targeted the younger Delhi bowlers for their runs. Watson pulled Yo Mahesh for a six over square leg and then slogged the same bowler for a four over long-on. In his next over, Watson shuffled across the stumps and lofted the ball over long-off before driving down the ground. Smith went after Pradeep Sangwan - pulling him masterfully for a four to midwicket. He finally fell to a blinding catch by Yo Mahesh at deep midwicket when he tried to slog legspinner Amit Mishra for a six. Watson played Mishra cautiously at first, getting forward and defending, but Watson took him for 15 runs in his third over.
What should have been a cakewalk for Rajasthan became a bit of a scramble in the end. Though Watson kept firing, wickets continued to fall at the other end. Eventually Watson too departed, in a moment of controversy. Niraj Patel called for a risky single and then sent Watson back to the non-striker's end. Delhi took a shy at the stumps and an overthrow followed. Watson and Patel decided to take a run and this time, Watson had to dive to get to the crease. Delhi appealed but square-leg umpire Steve Davis turned it down and didn't refer it to the third umpire. Eventually, after Sehwag persisted with the other umpire, Rudi Koertzen, it was referred and Watson was given out. Too little too late, though; Rajasthan needed seven of 10 balls and Mahesh Rawat finished it off with five to spare.
Nishi Narayanan is a staff writer at Cricinfo