Rajasthan seal valuable victory
Rajasthan Royals backed up a strong batting performance from Adam Voges and Faiz Fazal with a disciplined bowling effort that choked Kings XI Punjab after their top order had delivered a promising start. The 31-run win meant Rajasthan climbed to a joint-fourth position on the points table, leaving Punjab, who have lost four out of five games, at the bottom. A blistering cameo by Manvinder Bisla had raised Punjab's hopes of scaling down a large target, but a combination of crafty bowling, agile fielding and some irresponsible batting crushed any possibility of a successful chase.
Though the margin of defeat indicates a dominating show by Rajasthan, Punjab had their chances. Their bowlers managed to fight back after a strong start by the Rajasthan openers but faltered at the death in the wake of an assault from Voges and Fazal. Kumar Sangakkara and Bisla blazed away in their reply, racing to 76 in the first six overs, the highest score of the tournament after the Powerplay. But clever variations from seamers Siddharth Trivedi and Munaf Patel, and some uninspiring batting from the rest of the line-up, cut short what was gearing up to be a more exciting fixture.
The conditions at the PCA Stadium in Mohali were conducive for fast bowling with the Punjab opening bowlers beating the outside edge on more than one occasion, and Shaun Tait doing the same during the chase. Tait, who had a poor start to the IPL, bowled a couple of excellent outswingers at Ravi Bopara but suffered an onslaught from Sangakkara, whose frequent hits to the boundary were as much a consequence of good fortune as the batsman's conviction.
A smattering of fours through cover was followed by an inside edge to fine leg before Tait, dropping one short, led the Punjab captain to upper-cut a catch straight to third man; but not before 41 had been scored in the first four overs.
Bisla's brazen aggression threatened to set Punjab on course, but also contributed to his downfall, a result of a well-executed strategy from Shane Warne. Bisla, who shot to limelight with a blazing 75 against Bangalore, tore into Munaf off just his second ball. Given the restrictions, he had figured out his scoring areas, and proceeded to take 18 off the fifth over, including two fours and six through the leg side. Warne, too, suffered a similar fate, smashed for 10 in two balls but Bisla's ploy to strike against the turn cost him. Anticipating a slog, Warne had a deep midwicket in place, flighted the ball, Bisla obliged and holed out.
Yuvraj Singh had returned to form in a thrilling chase against Chennai, and looked to continue that when he smacked a straight six off Warne. But his ill-executed shot off Trivedi, having been dropped two balls earlier, marked the beginning of a dismal collapse that squandered a healthy position of 107 for 2 in the 11th over.
Both Munaf and Trivedi frequently took the pace off the ball which the Punjab batsmen, including Yuvraj and Bopara, failed to read. When Irfan Pathan was run-out brilliantly by Abhishek Jhunjhunwala in the 13th over, and Mohammad Kaif trapped in front by Yusuf Pathan 11 balls later, Punjab had lost four batsmen for 19 runs in 23 balls. Rajasthan had virtually sealed the game, and were met with little resistance when running through the rest of the batting.
Just as in their batting, Punjab had slipped up with the ball when the game had been on even terms. They had the better of the conditions after choosing to field, but Sreesanth, Shalabh Srivastava and Irfan struggled for control with the ball moving around. Short balls were dispatched through point by the openers Michael Lumb and Naman Ojha, while full deliveries were picked up with ease over the leg-side field.
Lumb had a woeful start to the tournament, but played with confidence, matching his aggressive partner Ojha stroke for stroke. However, Punjab struck to remove the openers within the first eight overs and earned the big scalp of Yusuf Pathan, caught off a slower one with seven overs still to go.
But the stage was set for yet another turn in the game, as the Punjab bowlers failed to measure up to improvisations from Voges. He found the boundary with ease, piercing the gaps, following a well laid-out plan. Joining Fazal, Voges had marked his scoring areas. The spaces on either side, between long-on and deep midwicket and long-off and deep extra cover, were exploited, as Yuvraj, Piyush Chawla and Irfan were taken for two fours and a six in consecutive overs.
Fazal, too, began fluently but ceded the floor to Yusuf and then Voges before opening up. He seized on length deliveries to dispatch four boundaries in successive overs off Irfan and Rusty Theron in the death overs; his 60-run stand with Voges, off 37 balls, gave Rajasthan a formidable total, one that thwarted Sangakkara's plans at the toss to limit them to under 150 and handed their team another morale-boosting win.
Siddhartha Talya is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo