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First-person reports from the stands
Choice of game
I am a big fan of the IPL, thanks to the format that makes all the teams go through crests and troughs. Teams that underperform in the first half eventually get their act together and give it their all in the later stages while teams who are consistent in the first half of the tournament often lose momentum. Rajasthan Royals fall in the latter category, barring their consistent run in the first edition.
Sunrisers Hyderabad may have been rebranded and rechristened, but they retain the core of the Deccan Chargers. They were champions in the second season, but have otherwise always been off the boil. So this match was supposedly between equals. This year's points table says so, anyway.
"I'll be going to the match today," I informed a friend who isn't from Jaipur. "Oh, to that ground that has more moths than spectators," he responded. I gave a laugh and let it go. He is a Delhi supporter and I can understand his frustration this year. Thankfully, this was an afternoon game and the moths didn't pose a problem.
The Sawai Mansingh Stadium is small and beautiful. The outfield is lush and the view is clear from every corner of the ground. I was lucky to have premium passes to the players' lounge on the west side of the ground. The lounge had the closest view, and a sumptuous buffet to go with. I couldn't have asked for more. This is the sort of experience for which you don't regret splurging. In my case, I didn't have to since I got the pass for free.
One complaint that I'll always have with the crowd in Jaipur is that we are not as loud as the RCB fans at the Chinnaswamy. Maybe it's got to do with the people.
Shane Watson, Rahul Dravid, Dale Steyn. You pitch the first two against the third and the match-up seems delicious. I had never seen Steyn in action live before this match so it was exciting to watch him bowl at a blistering pace. Hyderabad decided to bat first upon winning the toss, but ran into some spectacular bowling from Rajasthan. Within no time, Hyderabad were reduced to 29 for 6. It seemed a lost contest for Hyderabad, until Darren Sammy intervened.
Darren Sammy resurrected Hyderabad and took them to a healthy score of 144. The outfield was quick, and his shots reached the boundary in no time. This was a competitive total given Hyderabad's bowling depth. James Faulkner was a joy to watch as well. He was a class apart from the rest of the Rajasthan attack. England might have a tough time later this year with Faulkner in Australia's Ashes squad.
However, Watson's show in the evening shadowed everything that went before. I was expecting a lot out of him following his century against Chennai, and he didn't disappoint.
Face-off I relished
Rahul Dravid v Dale Steyn. The first ball from Steyn to Dravid was a classic outswinger, and resulted in a play-and-miss. True to his reputation, Dravid absorbed the pressure and kept Steyn at bay with the calmness of a monk. It was a good ploy to shield Watson from the initial Steyn overs. The ball was swinging and once again Dravid shouldered the responsibility.
The last over of the game was remarkable to watch. Watson was keen on getting to his century and it seemed like Steyn was adamant on stopping him. Watson kept hitting towards deep midwicket, where Steyn kept leaping and diving to save as many runs as possible. It made for spectacular viewing.
This being a day game, the 10 pm restriction on loud music didn't impact the experience. The DJ has been awesome all these years in Jaipur and it was once again a musical evening. All the activities on the ground reduce the cricket to a side show, and I think that's what makes T20 a hit. There is so much happening even between the overs making the spectator the ultimate winner.
One thing I would have changed
I had thoughts of reaching home early given how the initial overs went. But Hyderabad managed to reach a decent total in the end which was kind of good. However, the game wasn't close, which left me a little disappointed. The ease with which Rajasthan won surprised me - there were no tense moments, no anxiety, nothing.
Marks out of 10
All in all, it was a satisfying experience, and I'll give it 8 out of 10. It's always good to see your team win, but this was emphatic and came against one of the better teams this season, making it even more special. The last time Shane Watson performed this consistently, Rajasthan won the IPL. I can hear murmurs of people now saying we aren't underdogs this time. I welcome them all.
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