An irrepressible Rajasthan Royals side got their fourth successive win of the tournament and nudged past Delhi to second place in the points table with a 45-run win over a listless Kolkata Knight Riders. 'All the King's men' might be Kolkata's advertising tagline, referring to team owner Shah Rukh Khan, but here it was a more apt description of Shane Warne and his team. His decision to bat first - allowing his bowlers respite from the Jaipur heat - was justified by attacking half-centuries from debutant Swapnil Asnodkar and Yusuf Pathan, and disciplined bowling by the Rajasthan quicks.
Kolkata felt the absence of Brendon McCullum and Ricky Ponting, who left for the upcoming Test series in the West Indies, as they slumped to their third defeat in a row. In the only other match in which they chased, Kolkata needed 111 to win, a far less daunting target than the 197 they were set to chase today.
Rajasthan's preferred method has been to chase a target, but this time Warne changed the tactic, and Asnodkar, who opened the innings with Graeme Smith, got into his stride immediately. He cut, drove and slogged for his 60, playing cautiously against Ishant Sharma and Umar Gul - who eventually had him caught trying to pull - and targeting the wayward Ashok Dinda and Ajit Agarkar. He hit Agarkar for three successive fours and reached his fifty off 29 balls.
Yusuf, who also got to his fifty off 29 balls, added 53 with Asnodkar. He went after David Hussey's insipid spin and Agarkar's short-of-length deliveries and helped Rajasthan score 53 between overs 10 and 15. Yusuf got most of his runs by waiting on the back foot and hitting it powerfully to either side of the stumps. He reached his fifty with a massive six driven straight on to the roof. Ravindra Jadeja's cameo - 33 off 19 balls - helped Rajasthan to a competitive score.
With the pitch being flat, Rajasthan's bowlers strove to maintain their line and length. Salman Butt was bowled when he inside-edged one from Sohail Tanvir that stayed low and came in. Agarkar, promoted to No. 3, was caught behind as he tried to cut a straight delivery from Shane Watson. Brad Hodge was run out at the non-striker's end after Siddharth Trivedi got a finger on to the ball off Sourav Ganguly's drive straight, and helped the ball onto the stumps.
That brought together Ganguly and David Hussey, and though the two were out there long enough to build a partnership that could have set the platform for the chase, they found it hard to pierce the field. In the first four overs they batted together, Hussey and Ganguly hit one six each, but no fours. Ganguly was lucky to get off twice - a pull nearly caught at midwicket and a catch by Graeme Smith that was given not out after the third umpire, Asad Rauf, ruled that it might not have been taken cleanly - but fell when he tried to break loose. His 68-run partnership with Hussey was the only one of consequence in the Kolkata innings.
Among the bowlers, Gul, playing his first game, was disciplined early on, bowling successive yorkers - his first two overs yielded two wickets for 15 runs. Ishant Sharma bowled straight and full, and didn't allow the Rajasthan batsmen to take too many liberties. Ganguly used seven bowlers, including himself, but was not always backed up in the field. Twice in the innings, the ball went past fielders who were in the process of collecting it.
Rajasthan, on the other hand, were much sharper in the field. The manner in which the last wicket fell summed up their day: Warne and substitute fielder Taruwar Kohli both ran for the skier, Kohli managed to stretch to his left and grab it just as Warne collided with him. The two tumbled to the ground, but the ball was safely ensconced in Kohli's hand. In a side less inspired, this would have been the comic collision of the day; here, it was the last act of another polished performance.