A high-scoring thriller which produced 412 runs finally went the way of Rajasthan Royals, as they edged Chennai Super Kings to record their tenth win of the IPL and further consolidate their position at the top of the table. After Graeme Smith had powered Rajasthan to 211, Chennai put up a spirited run-chase, thanks largely to Albie Morkel's 40-ball 71. In the end, though, his effort wasn't enough, which means Chennai still have work to do to make it to the last four.
Smith's 51-ball 91, and his stunning 127-run opening-wicket stand with Swapnil Asnodkar, put Rajasthan firmly in control at the halfway stage, but Chennai mounted a remarkable reply, with three of their top four making significant contributions. Morkel, Parthiv Patel and Suresh Raina ensured they kept up with the asking rate throughout - 30 were needed off the last 15 balls, when Rajasthan tightened up their act with accurate bowling and spirited fielding, with Mohammad Kaif putting in an outstanding performance around the long-on and long-off boundaries.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who came in at the fall of Parthiv's wicket, chipped to long-off from Sohail Tanvir in the 18th, and after S Badrinath fell in the next over, Chennai were left with 15 from the last over. With Morkel still around, Chennai had a chance, but Tanvir was superb, pitching it full, on the stumps, and giving away just four runs. Eleven were needed off the last two, and when Morkel flicked one straight to short fine leg, Chennai had fallen short again. Unlike their previous run-chase, though, when they made a hash of a target of 127, there was no shame in losing this one.
A target of 212 was a stiff one, but Chennai's start suggested they were hardly intimidated. After Stephen Fleming's early run-out, Raina and Parthiv carted the bowlers all around the MA Chidambaram Stadium in a 70-run stand that came off just 6.5 overs. Raina has struggled over the last few matches, but here he was unstoppable, driving and cutting fluently through the off side, and pulling Munaf Patel when he dropped it fractionally short.
When Raina fell, miscuing Warne to midwicket, it didn't hamper the run-chase at all, for out walked Morkel. While most batsmen preferred to move to leg and make room, Morkel's chosen method was to stay still at the crease, and then hit straight through the line over long-on and long-off. To anything drifting on leg stump, he used the short-arm pull or the slog-sweep to excellent effect. A couple of huge sixes off Yusuf Pathan and Munaf got him on his way, and Warne wasn't spared either, as a slog-sweep easily cleared midwicket.
Parthiv wasn't as explosive, but he played his part well, interspersing well-timed hits to the boundary - including a superb straight six off Warne - with clever nudges on both sides of the stumps to give the strike back to the more powerful strikers. He was clearly running out of steam, though, and his dismissal brought out Dhoni, who could have been the ideal man for the situation. As it turned out, though, Rajasthan had enough runs to the board to edge this one.
The match produced 39 fours and 18 sixes, and that was largely due to a perfect batting strip: the pace was even, allowing batsmen to hit through the line, while there was no seam or swing movement for the bowlers. Add a super-quick outfield and sweltering heat to the equation, and there was little to cheer for the fielding team.
With their team already in the semi-finals, Warne experimented with team strategy, choosing to bat first, and the move paid off immediately: the third ball, from Makhaya Ntini, was a no-ball, the free hit was promptly deposited over long-on by Asnodkar for six, and that signalled the start of the deluge. Both batsmen hit cleanly through the line of the ball, freeing their arms to crash boundaries through the off side or pull over midwicket. Manpreet Gony suffered early, as Asnodkar drove and pulled him for boundaries, and Smith soon joined in the fun, cutting and flicking Albie Morkel for fours. To make matters worse for Chennai, the hard pitch favoured the batsmen in more ways than one: when Smith played one off Ntini hard into the turf, it bounced so high over the fielder at point that Ntini could only smile in resignation.
The first six overs produced nine fours and two sixes, and with the total reading 67, Rajasthan were on their way. Muttiah Muralitharan was brought into the attack in the seventh, but he couldn't stop the bleeding either, as Smith lofted him over wide mid-on, and then slog-swept a mighty six. L Balaji was even more profligate, with Smith and Asnodkar creaming 20 in his second over.
Of the first 12 overs, ten produced ten or more runs, as Rajasthan put together their third century stand for the first wicket. Asnodkar and Smith fell in quick succession, but the two wickets didn't slow the run-fest, as Akmal quickly got into his stride, coming down the pitch and carting the third ball he faced into the long-on stands. His 26-ball half-century lifted Rajasthan to 211, and on a flat pitch, they needed all those runs to come out on top.