Ben Stokes is at the wheel and Rajasthan Royals are on the road to recovery. Skating on thin ice, Royals are responding superbly, inspired by their talisman, who lit up Abu Dhabi with a sparkling half-century on top of his two wickets. RR eventually sauntered to their victory target of 186 with 15 balls to spare. For Kings XI Punjab, a sixth win on the trot would have taken them very close to a playoff berth. They now have to beat Chennai Super Kings in their final group league fixture on Sunday to have a chance.
With just six matches to go in the group stage, only one team, Mumbai Indians, has reached the playoffs. This has been a very competitive IPL.
— IndianPremierLeague (@IPL) October 30, 2020
This was RR’s second win on the spin and yet again, Stokes was the impact player for them. A 26-ball 50 came on the heels of his unbeaten century against MI in the last game. Against an imposing total, a good Powerplay was the key for RR. The new ball was their best opportunity to get off to a flyer. Stokes led the charge.
A four off Arshdeep Singh followed by another against Mohammed Shami, and the left-hander was in total control – save a top edge off a Shami bouncer. KXIP skipper KL Rahul introduced leg-spinner Murugan Ashwin inside the Powerplay. Stokes decimated him. When he departed in the sixth over, RR had already reached 60. They finished the Powerplay on 66/1.
Stokes’ innings set the tempo and the batsmen who came after him just had to carry on with the momentum. Sanju Samson played beautifully for his 25-ball 48, and when he was run out in the 15th over, his team had victory firmly in sight. Together Stokes and Samson neutralised the KXIP spinners, as Ashwin and Ravi Bishnoi conceded 70 runs off their eight overs for just one wicket. Steve Smith put the finishing touches in the company of Jos Buttler.
Earlier, Chris Gayle fell one run short of a hundred. Jofra Archer bowled a yorker which hit his pad and ricocheted into the off-stump. It upset Gayle to the extent that he threw his bat on the ground and it flew towards mid-wicket. Gayle, meanwhile, was shaking hands with Archer.
It wasn’t a typical Gayle innings – a storm blowing away the opponents. And yet, he scored those 99 runs off just 63 balls, hitting eight sixes. He was the reason why Kings XI Punjab got to a 180-plus total after losing the toss on a sluggish Abu Dhabi pitch.
KL Rahul struggled to get a move on, his 120-run partnership with Gayle notwithstanding. Nicholas Pooran played a cameo but didn’t make a big impact. So it was down to Gayle to carry his team.
He came at the end of the first over and departed in the 20th. All along, barring once or twice, he picked the right deliveries to hit and targeted the right bowlers. KXIP didn’t pick him for their first seven matches. This was his sixth match and the 41-year-old now has three 50-plus scores to his credit.
The game had an eventful beginning. Archer started off proceedings with a yorker. That was supreme conference. On the final delivery of the over, he dismissed Mandeep Singh with a snorter. The ball reared off a length, thudded into the glove and popped up to the short square gully region. Stokes charged in from backward point, dived forward and took the catch inches off the ground.Rajasthan Royals brought in Varun Aaron for Ankit Rajpoot, hoping he would provide some support to Archer. The RR bowling in this tournament has been a one-man show. Aaron forced Gayle to mistime a pull, when the batsman was on 10. The skier went to deep backward square, where Riyan Parag dropped it. Maybe, he was put off by Robin Uthappa running towards him.
RR captain Smith probably missed a trick by not giving an extra over to Archer in his first spell. The fast bowler bowled only one delivery to Gayle when the left-hander was bedding in. Then again, Smith barely had any death-overs options, which could be a reason why he decided to hold back his bowling spearhead. Kartik Tyagi came and Gayle welcomed him with two fours and a six. From RR’s point of view, a big positive was Stokes completing his quota of four overs. Gayle, by and large, played him and Archer judiciously but still reached a 33-ball half-century.
Brief Scores: Kings XI Punjab 185 for 4 (C Gayle 99, KL Rahul 46; J Archer 2/26) lost to Rajasthan Royals 186 for 3 in 17.3 ovs (B Stokes 50, S Samson 48, S Smith 31 not out; M Ashwin 1/43).
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