Choice of game
All Rajasthan Royals home games this year are special to me, since this could be the last season for my all-time favourite - Rahul Dravid. That, and the prospect of watching the big-hitting Yusuf Pathan against the team that made him a star in the first three seasons, made this a must-watch game for me.
Rajasthan Royals, most definitely. After all, what's the IPL without the city rivalry and fierce support for one's home town? Additionally, the Royals have always backed relatively unknown players and made match-winners out of them, an approach that deserves to be lauded.
This wasn't a game in which one player won the game for the team. With the bat, it was Ajinkya Rahane and Brad Hodge, and with the ball, it was Rahul Shukla, Siddharth Trivedi and Kevon Cooper. For me, however, the star performer was Dishant Yagnik. I don't remember the last time I saw someone smash Sunil Narine for a six and a four off successive balls, but he did it with ease. And to add to that, he took three catches, including the outstanding take of Gautam Gambhir, that changed the course of the game.
One thing I'd have changed
I would have had Brad Hodge come into bat ahead of Stuart Binny. Stuart did score 40 off just 20 balls in RR's last game, but this time, the score was 47 for 2 in the eighth over, and the time was right for Hodge to come in, set the stage, and attack later. As it turned out, Binny didn't last long, and Hodge then came in at 63 for 3.
Face-off I relished
Brett Lee v Rahul Dravid. A few trademark defensive strokes from Dravid, a couple of sharp in-dippers from Lee that hit the thigh, and later, Dravid's fluid flick off his hips to fine leg. My night was made.
New kid on the block
Rahul Shukla, playing the first home game for Rajasthan in his first season with them, made a big impact on the game. In his very first over, he uprooted Manvinder Bisla's stumps, and then dismissed Jacques Kallis first ball. It was a start that Shukla himself wouldn't have dreamt of.
Binny's catch on the boundary. A sharp, short delivery from Shaun Tait, Rajat Bhatia playing a stinging pull shot, and then Binny, holding it on the edge. All of it happened in a flash and brought the crowd to their feet.
When Tait and Kallis got close to the boundary while fielding, the kind of support they received from the crowd was overwhelming. The classy cricketers also obliged the cheering fans with an occasional wave and a thumbs-up, that made the noise level go up by a few decibels.
Shot of the day
Tough choice, as there were three exceptional strokes played. Rahane's six off Shami Ahmed over covers, Yagnik's slog-swept six off Narine, and Eoin Morgan's flick off his hips to a Shaun Tait bazooka. But of these three, I'd pick Yagnik's six. No one would have expected him to hit such a flat six, that too off the wily Narine, whose idea of an expensive over is one that goes for five runs.
The chants from the crowd in my section were largely in support of the home team, but there were some loyal Kolkata fans too, sporting Kolkata bandanas, who made their presence felt as soon as Lee dismissed Shane Watson. The home crowd was sporting, appreciating the good deliveries that Narine bowled. Even when Morgan was hitting those sixes in the end, they were still applauding his batting. And above all, it was a very well-behaved crowd.
No home fan would ever complain when the home team wins, but here, there was more than that. My team won, yes, but it was a great game in every way. It was neither a low-scoring game, nor a 200-run affair. The eventual margin of 19 runs does seem comfortable by T20 standards, but the game, especially towards the end, was anything but one-sided. One more over of Morgan and things could have ended very differently. Good batting, terrific fast bowling, great fielding and some wonderful catching ensured that the crowd got their money's worth.
Marks out of 10
8.5. I'll deduct 1.5 on account of Watson's flop show, and the fact that I couldn't get enough of Dravid at the crease. Other than that, it was a beautiful game of cricket.