Synopsis: A vintage Rahane show for Royals goes in vain as Dhawan’s rollicking start and Pant’s X-factor sets up Delhi’s win.
Dhawan’s rollicking start
To chase down 192 at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, Delhi Capitals needed Shikhar Dhawan to set the tempo upfront. The opener made a blazing 54 off 27 balls and set up his team’s six-wicket victory. Rajasthan Royals’ bowling line-up has an overload of bowlers who serves freebies. That apart, their poor catching and fielding has at times borders on the comical. Dhawan feasted on the loose deliveries. The likes of Dhawal Kulkarni offered him length and the left-hander accepted the favour gleefully. Royals also made a mistake by bringing on leg-spinner Shreyas Gopal inside Powerplay, with the opener on the rampage. The latter welcomed the leggie with a slog-swept six followed by two boundaries. Gopal eventually dismissed Dhawan but by then the visitors had seized control.
Pant, the X-factor
Capitals batting has had a tendency to implode. In the previous three matches, Rishabh Pant had thrown away his wickets. But when he is in the zone, he provides the X-factor. His scintillating 78 not out off 36 balls, with six four and four sixes, took his team on top of the IPL leaderboard; an uncharted territory for the hitherto also-rans. His one-handed lap-sweep against Jaydev Unadkat was contemptuous. A six off Archer took him to his half-century in just 26 balls. In the penultimate over, another maximum against Archer titled the balance in Capitals’ favour. The wicket-keeper finished it off by sending a short ball from Unadkat a few rows back over deep mid-wicket.
“It feels really good to make your team win a crucial match. (Missing out on World Cup) I won’t lie that the thought wasn’t running through my mind, but I just focus on my process,” said Pant, who was ignored by the national selectors for the England-bound squad.
Pant aside, Prithvi Shaw, too, played a good hand. But he was dropped on 10 by Ashton Turner. Then, Archer breached Shaw’s defence, but the Zinger bails yet again refused to budge. Royals lost not because they lost the momentum towards the end of their innings. They were actually done in by their indiscipline in the bowling.
This innings was a throwback to the Rahane of yore. He waited for the ball, played late and went for his shots unfettered. A dropped catch on 16 acted proved to be the catalyst. Following the reprieve, Rahane came out of his shell and scored a splendid century – 105 not out off 63 balls, laced with 11 fours and three sixes.
The most fascinating part of his innings, however, was the way he unsettled Kagiso Rabada; by far the best pacer in this IPL. Rahane charged down the ground and smashed a length ball from the fast bowler over the sight screen. The Protea lost his line and length, bowled a full-toss followed by a half-volley on the leg stump. Rahane took a couple and a boundary. Rahane’s ton, in 58 balls, came with a couple off Sharma. It was Rahane’s second IPL hundred. More significantly, it was his first three-figure score in two years in high-profile limited-overs match.
Spare a thought for Royals captain Steve Smith as well; especially the way he chose to play second fiddle and allowed Rahane to grow into the game despite being the in-form batsman. Smith himself scored a 32-ball 50, and added 130 runs for the second wicket with Rahane. Despite their efforts, Royals were the losing side.
Brief scores: Delhi Capitals 193 for four [Rishabh Pant 78* off 36 balls (6x4s, 4x6s), S Dhawan 54 off 27 (8x4s, 2x6s), R Parag 1-25] in 19.2 overs beat Rajasthan Royals 191 for six in 20 overs [Ajinkra Rahane 105* off 63 balls (11x4s, 3x6s), Steve Smith 50 off 32 (8x4s), Rabada 2-37] by six wickets.