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First-person reports from the stands
Choice of game
It was the Rajasthan Royals' first game of IPL 5 so I had to be there. A carnival atmosphere was expected at the ground, and of course, the prospect of Rahul Dravid captaining the side against Adam Gilchrist's Kings XI Punjab made it an unmissable game.
The first champions of the IPL, and perhaps the only team in the tournament that has consistently invested in veterans - who else would pick Warne, Lehmann, Martyn, Dravid, Hodge and Hogg for their T20 team?
Ajinkya Rahane proves that you just have to be a good batsman to succeed in all formats. As Sanjay Manjrekar aptly put it while announcing the Man-of-the-Match award, Rahane showed that one can maintain a strike rate of over 150 in a Twenty20 without slogging. He didn't play a single delivery across the line. In fact, there were times during his opening stand with Dravid when I was confused as to who was on strike. There can't be a greater compliment for a young batsman.
One thing I'd have changed
I would have given the first over of the Kings XI innings to Johan Botha because spinners have managed to get the usually rampaging Gilly out early in T20s. Siddarth Trivedi was easy meat for him.
Face-off you relished
Piyush Chawla v Rahane - two talented youngsters trying to win back a place in the national side. Round one went to Chawla who beat Rahane twice in his first over, and later removed another future star, Ashok Menaria. But round two went to Rahane when he hit Chawla for four fours in one over (one was a leg-bye though, but hey, it was Rahane's leg!). That over shifted the momentum towards the Royals.
What an entry
Kevon Cooper's first-ball six made him a crowd favourite. Though the Royals had maintained a good run-rate and hit fours right from the start, there had been only two sixes in the innings till 19.3 overs. But then out came Cooper - an unknown commodity for the opposition and the spectators - and smashed his first ball of the IPL, and in India, over backward point for an 85-metre six.
The usually slow-moving Shah dived full-length at the boundary line to save a four. Then he picked the ball up cleanly and flicked it back to another fielder nearby. Fabulously done. He saved two runs, but more importantly, showed the hunger he has despite being ignored by the selectors for some time now, even though he's one of England's most dangerous T20 batsmen.
My seat was too far from the boundary to get a good look at the players, but I enjoyed watching Ramesh Powar - who didn't play the match - warming up with the team. It was fascinating to see someone who looks so unfit field so actively.
Getting to watch Gilchrist live for the first time was a moment I'll cherish.
Shot of the day
Owais Shah swept Praveen Kumar for a four. What made it the shot of the match for me was the fact that after connecting with the ball, Shah didn't even look behind to see if it had gone for four. Instead, he looked at the bowler, as if to say, "Mate, someone told me you are a fast bowler so why are you bowling spin today?" Terrific, loved the attitude.
The chants from the crowd in my section built up to a crescendo. Louder than the reception usually given to politicians and at religious functions. They were also singing old Hindi film songs during the game, which was unexpected. But the most hilarious part came when they chanted "Baith jaao" ("sit down") in the tone of "Sachin, Sachin" to people who stood up on their seats in front of them. That made the standing spectators smile and immediately sit down.
The DJ at the stadium deserves a high-ten, if there is such a thing. From the latest Hindi film songs to Punjabi music to the IPL trumpet, he had it all. But nothing entertained the Jaipur crowd more than the dancing cheerleaders, not even the 22 players, I dare say.
It was a lovely game for me, maybe because my team won. But it was also fascinating to watch the tussle between two captains who were probably unlucky not to have led their national teams for longer periods. I also got to watch the birth of a new T20 star and a youngster showcasing his splendid talent again. I couldn't have asked for much more from the Royals' first game in 2012.
Marks out of 10
8.5. I deduct 1.5 because I couldn't get to see Rahane score a century and because Kings XI didn't really give much of a fight, which meant there weren't any nail-biting moments in the game.
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