On Monday, the Rajasthan Royals had pulled out a victory from a situation which was all but against them. Just three days later, a similar situation was on view. Only, Royals were on the opposite side of that situation. In the face of some accurate bowling and backed by an impeccable fielding unit, the Sunrisers Hyderabad clinically strangulated the Royals’ batting on their way to earning a very well-deserved 32-run victory.
At the change-over, it looked as if the Sunrisers had shot themselves in the foot at a packed Motera. Having been 50 for one after the first six powerplay overs, they ended up at 134 for nine in 20. Only skipper Shikhar Dhawan got a decent score under his belt — a fourth of the team’s total with 33. Apart from him, none of the other batsmen really got going.
Royals’ Rajat Bhatia made full use of the slowness in the pitch to fox the opposition, ending up with three wickets for 23 while the Royals captain, Shane Watson, picked up a hat-trick, the second one for his side in as many games.
With 135 to get and a batting unit in formidable form, the Royals were expected to stroll to a win. With the Sunrisers batting floundering once again, their healthily stocked bowling arsenal was again provided a rather marginal total to defend. In the previous season, the Sunrisers bowlers had repeatedly defended middling totals, using their spinners to choke up the run-flow after the fast bowlers had softened up the batting with their initial burst. This season though, their lead spinner Amit Mishra has been out of sorts, while pace-spearhead Dale Steyn has been patchy.
Pieces fall into place
However, on a warm Thursday evening, all the problems that the Sunrisers have had with their bowling seemed to have been magically resolved. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, always a threat with the new ball, took out Ajinkya Rahane off the third ball of the first over. The ball seemed to stick in the pitch for just a moment, and Rahane’s airy drive ended up at point in David Warner’s hands.
Another uppish waft off Steyn sent back Karun Nair and right at the end of the powerplay, a hissing leg-break from Karn Sharma had disturbed Sanju Samson’s woodwork.
Thirty-seven for three from the first six overs in reply ensured a few creases made appearances on faces in the Royals’ dugout. Just three balls later, those creases widened as Watson tickled an innocuous Moises Henriques ball to the wicketkeeper.
With Steven Smith and Stuart Binny in for the Royals and 93 required from 13 overs, the match was very much in the balance at this point. It was here that the Sunrisers turned the screws with Mishra and Karn Sharma sending down six overs full of intelligent variations, including some big turners. The next seven overs produced only 28 runs. Both Smith and Binny were unable to score a boundary off the bat, the only one coming through Naman Ojha’s profligacy behind the stumps.
The Sunrisers fielding, a potent factor in their victory, asserted itself at crucial times. Warner ran out Binny with a sharp pick up and throw from midwicket. With the batsmen getting desperate, the chances were always going to come. Irfan Pathan sent back Smith with a smartly judged catch off a top-edge, while Aaron Finch plucked one off the long-on boundary on the run and Warner hared in rapidly from the deep midwicket fence to pouch Bhatia’s ungainly hoick.
Bhuvneshwar finished with four for 14, and he perhaps exemplified all that was right with the Sunrisers bowling on the day. The 23-year-old kept the ball up, varying his pace subtly to use the slowness of the wicket to deceive the batsmen. In the beginning of his spell, with the new ball swining, Bhuvneshwar repeatedly beat the outside edge. But at the death, when it was the batsmen who were swinging, Bhuvneshwar used his slower ball in nifty fashion.
Mixing the slower change-ups with his wide yorkers, Bhuvneshwar and the Sunrisers achieved what very few teams have achieved in this particular tournament — breach the Royals home bastion.