Rajasthan clinch fourth straight win
Naman Ojha's bat, Yusuf Pathan's right arm and some steady nerves from the fast bowlers proved enough to flummox Chennai Super Kings and lead Rajasthan Royals to their fourth win in a row. Ojha's first half-century of the season, and best score in the IPL, propelled Rajasthan to a formidable total before a miserly spells from Yusuf, who also effected a direct-hit run-out and held two catches, Shaun Tait and Siddharth Trivedi choked Chennai as the "home" side surged to a 17-run victory in Ahmedabad.
In Yusuf and Michael Lumb, Rajasthan possess some awesome firepower, but the pair fizzled in hot conditions on an ideal batting pitch. Lumb, who scored crucial 40s in the last two games, fleetingly cut loose while Pathan followed his audacious 34-ball 73 in the last game with a single-digit score. Thus it was left to Ojha to shore up the innings. For the first four overs he was a spectator as Lumb led the charge, playing a series of shots in his 16-ball 30. At 47 for 1 after four overs, Rajasthan were off to a flier. At this stage Ojha was on 14. He was keen to play from his crease and more comfortable against medium-pace than spin, though each of his five sixes came against the slower bowlers, two against Muttiah Muralitharan. Ojha played superb shots off the back foot into the arc between cover-point and short third man that were hit with tremendous bat speed and put pressure on the boundary riders.
After the strategic time-out, Faiz Fazal fell, trying to launch Shadab Jakati's left-arm spin into orbit; that brought Yusuf to the crease with Rajasthan set up at 100 for 2 after 11 overs. The last time he walked out at this venue, Pathan clubbed eight sixes in an audacious innings. Today he batted six deliveries for eight runs, with just one four, before he got a leading edge off Jakati to cover.
Ojha, after crossing fifty, relied on two areas for the majority of his runs: that same arc square of the pitch when the seamers were on, and down toward long-on, when the spinners were in operation. Ojha struggled to hit the quicker bowlers down the ground or past cover and, trying to manipulate Thilan Thushara, he got a leading edge on an ugly paddle that short fine leg gobbled up.
Adam Voges fell just after for 20 from 19 balls as Chennai limited the damage at the end. Paras Dogra was run out trying to get Abhishek Jhunjhunwala on strike and, having got back on strike, Jhunjhunwala holed out to long-on. Shane Warne completed the hat-trick of wickets in the final over when he was run out without facing a ball. Chennai had bowled the last ten overs for 81 runs and seven wickets, but failed to take that momentum into their chase.
After bowling a four-run first over, Yusuf struck in his second when he made a difficult chance look easy: Matthew Hayden charged and drove back firmly but Yusuf stuck out his right hand and plucked the ball. Chennai regained some momentum through M Vijay, who looked in gorgeous touch during his 28-ball 42, but Yusuf then nailed a sharp direct hit from square leg.
Chennai's chances after nine overs still looked favourable. They had lost two wickets, but Rajasthan's bowlers had been let down in the field, with three chances going down, two off the dangerous Suresh Raina. Lumb failed to latch on to a pull off Tait and Ojha put down a chance on 12 when Raina looked to steer Warne.
The strategic time-out has favoured the fielding side this season and so it was here. Four balls after the break, the slow pace of Warne undid Raina, who looked to ping the deep midwicket boundary with a big swish but instead heard the ball crash into off stump. S Badrinath was beaten first up with a fizzing legbreak, with Yusuf at slip licking his lips, to conjure up visions of Warne in a different era. The squeeze was on.
Chennai managed just four boundaries in the next five overs, with Trivedi turning in another outstanding outing. His first three overs cost just 15 runs and he mixed slow bouncers with offcutters expertly. With Chennai needing 59 from 30 balls, Warne called on Yusuf for his final over and what an over it proved to be. He fired the ball in flat and quick and, after a wide, a leg-bye, a single and a dot, MS Dhoni was run out going for the second run. Rajasthan exploded in excitement.
That turned into trepidation as Morkel clubbed three successive sixes off Warne, but Tait struck with the bouncer to get Badrinath top-edging to Pathan and followed up with Morkel's wicket as he swung one to the deep. Tait's pace was just too hot to handle and for the third straight game he'd bowled a crucial spell. Trivedi bowled a tight last over to seal the win.
Rajasthan now have the same number of points as Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore. They are scripting another memorable comeback.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo