Bowlers set up Rajasthan's hat-trick of wins
Shane Warne did not set the IPL alight in his first five matches this season, but he was terrific tonight in Ahmedabad. His captaincy was innovative as always and he bowled his best spell of the tournament, choking the run flow, dismissing a dangerous-looking Herschelle Gibbs, and helping Rajasthan Royals restrict Deccan Chargers' formidable batting line-up to a below-par total. Warne's charges responded to his leadership, with the ball and in the field, and the result was a clinical performance that set up Rajasthan's third win in a row.
Rajasthan's batting has blown hot and cold this season - scoring 200-plus in Mumbai and only 92 in Bangalore - but their performances gained consistency in the last two contests. Michael Lumb anchored another convincing display, leading the chase with a brisk 45, setting the platform for Yusuf Pathan to destroy Deccan's slim chances. Yusuf swung his bat powerfully, reached 50 off 23 balls, and sent a total of eight balls sailing over the boundary. The required-rate dipped below six in the ninth over, and Rajasthan eventually cruised past 148 with 26 balls to spare. The win catapulted Rajasthan from sixth to third in the points table.
Warne had promised surprises in the lead-up to this contest, but that he always does. After some confusion over who won the toss - Deccan had, and chose to bat - he unveiled his first. Adam Gilchrist thrives against speed while facing the new ball, and is perhaps familiar with the modus operandi of Shaun Tait, so Warne slowed it down by deploying little-known Sumit Narwal, who replaced Munaf Patel in this match.
Narwal got the ball to move away from Gilchrist, the IPL's most prolific six-hitter, and after two tight deliveries, induced a mis-hit that was held by Yusuf at mid-off. Deccan were 2 for 1 at the end of the first over.
Warne's next move didn't work. Yusuf is usually the go-to man when Warne wants to open with spin, but today he chose Abhishek Jhunjhunwala. Herschelle Gibbs responded by skipping down the pitch twice to loft the offspinner back over his head for sixes. The over cost 16, but Jhunjhunwala would make amends with two accurate throws to run out Andrew Symonds and Venugopal Rao later in the innings.
Laxman, meanwhile, had swatted Siddharth Trivedi to the midwicket boundary. The shot was forced and was further indication that Laxman isn't comfortable playing his naturally graceful game in the Twenty20 format. He tried it again against Tait - Warne had brought him on in the fifth over - and holed out to mid-on.
Symonds and Gibbs threatened to wrest the initiative. Symonds struck three boundaries in a Narwal over and the run-rate was still above nine when Warne came into the attack after the Powerplay. He bowled three tight balls to Symonds, and dismissed Gibbs with the next: drawing the batsman forward with flight and beating him with dip and turn. Naman Ojha took off the bails with Gibbs' foot on the line.
At 58 for 3, it was left to Rohit Sharma and Symonds to lift the innings, but a poor call left Symonds with no hope of completing the second before Jhunjhunwala's throw reached Warne, who had figures of 1 for 7 at the end of his second over. Two quiet overs followed before Rohit took on Trivedi, pulling him over midwicket for six and driving to the extra-cover boundary.
The wickets continued to fall - T Suman bowled, Venugopal Rao and Chaminda Vaas run out - but Rohit ensured runs were coming from at least one end. He was dropped by Adam Voges on the deep midwicket boundary on 30, and then smashed Tait and Narwal over the straight boundaries for sixes, before holing out on 49. His dismissal meant Deccan had to settle for 148, their lowest total of the season.
Lumb got Rajasthan's chase off to a fluent start by taking two boundaries of Vaas' first over. He was dropped by Gibbs at point off RP Singh when on 12 and made Deccan pay immediately. In RP's second over, Lumb helped himself to four consecutive boundaries against length deliveries, over point, through square leg, over mid-off and midwicket. The last ball went for four leg byes as well, and Rajasthan were firmly on their way.
The Yusuf show started after Naman Ojha was stumped, ending a partnership of 54. Gilchrist began with a slip and a silly point for Pragyan Ojha, Yusuf responded by sending the ball over the straight boundary. It was the beginning of an assault that rendered Deccan helpless. Yusuf would wind up and swing, sometimes it appeared as if he hadn't connected properly, but the ball would need fetching from beyond the boundary. He finished Deccan with 73 off 34 balls, Gilchrist put it succinctly when he said "We were pumped today".
George Binoy is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo