IPL 8: Watson ton carries nervy Rajasthan into play-offs


May 16, 2015

Brief Scorecard: Rajasthan Royals 199 for 6 (Watson 104*, Russell 3-32) beat Kolkata Knight Riders 190 for 9 (Pathan 44, Morris 4-23) by nine runs

Shane Watson scored a 57 ball century and also chipped in with two wickets, Rajasthan Royals v Kolkata Knight Riders, IPL 2015, Mumbai, May 16, 2015 © BCCI

May 16, 2015

Brief Scorecard: Rajasthan Royals 199 for 6 (Watson 104*, Russell 3-32) beat Kolkata Knight Riders 190 for 9 (Pathan 44, Morris 4-23) by nine runs

Shane Watson scored a 57 ball century and also chipped in with two wickets, Rajasthan Royals v Kolkata Knight Riders, IPL 2015, Mumbai, May 16, 2015 © BCCI

MUMBAI – It was rather fitting that it was Shane Watson who played the decisive role in the most crucial victory yet in Rajasthan Royals’ Pepsi IPL 2015 campaign. The Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai saw a version of Watson that was far removed from the one that seemed so vulnerable during that Wahab Riaz spell at the World Cup.

On Saturday (May 16), the big Australian hammered his second IPL century to help Rajasthan win by nine runs against Kolkata Knight Riders. The victory helped Rajasthan seal their spot in the play-offs, while Kolkata had only a tiny mathematical chance of remaining alive, and are likely eliminated for all practical purposes.

Watson carried his bat for 104 not out off just 59 balls, the assault taking Rajasthan to 199 for 6 and shadowing Andre Russell’s excellent 3 for 32. Watson had handed over the captaincy reins to Steve Smith to concentrate on his batting – but he ended up playing a proper captain’s knock.

In response, Kolkata glowed briefly and in patches, but Yusuf Pathan’s 35-ball 44 and Russell’s 20-ball 37 were far from enough on a day when Chris Morris was in sublime form – he returned 4 for 21, including an excellent final over, to nullify Kolkata’s best efforts as they ended on 190 for 9.

It meant Rajasthan banished the ghosts of 2014, when they failed to qualify for the play-offs by the narrowest of margins.

This pitch always had runs in it. That much was evident when early in the innings, after Rajasthan opted to bat, the best efforts of Morne Morkel, Azhar Mahmood and Umesh Yadav failed to threaten the openers. The ball came on beautifully for the batsmen, and Ajinkya Rahane and Watson were able to swing their bats freely.

Boundaries were a constant in the first five overs, by the end of which Rajasthan had 52 on board. Two contrasting styles of batsmanship – as usually is the case when these two get going – were on display. If Rahane’s elegance had one swaying and swooning, Watson’s belligerence had the blood coursing with adrenaline. The partnership, while it lasted, was thigh-slapping stuff. But it ended in the most calamitous fashion – Rahane (37 off 22) run out when he was sent back while attempting a second.

The wicket slowed Rajasthan down, and things got worse when a Russell spell dismantled the middle order. Russell varied his pace and bowled intelligently to pick three quick wickets – Smith first deflected a full toss down leg straight to the short fine leg fielder before both Sanju Samson and James Faulkner holed out. Rajasthan were 140 for 4, but all the while Watson had plundered away.

Watson’s knock was of such a violent nature that viewer discretion should have been advised. Sixes flew so high they rebounded off the upper stands. Fours were hit with such ferocity that the ad boards probably needed replacing. No bowler was spared, no ball was spared. Partners came and went – there was a decisive 40-run stand with Karun Nair that steadied the innings – but Watson was Rajasthan’s only constant.

He brought up his century off just 57 balls, and promptly punched the air, yelled out words inaudible to the rest of the stadium, and spread his arms wide to the Rajasthan bench. He had set Kolkata a daunting total.

Were Kolkata daunted? It certainly seemed so. An excellent Morris bouncer had Gautam Gambhir gifting his wicket in the first over. Robin Uthappa played with typical grace – one of his strokes on the up had the crowd oohing – but when he mistimed one off Dhawal Kulkarni, Kolkata were 21 for 2.

The rebuilding job lay with Manish Pandey and Pathan. If they needed help, the bowlers happily obliged. First Barinder Saran, the debutant medium pacer, and then Kulkarni both bowled wayward bouncers that ended up as five wides over the ‘keeper’s head. It released pressure on the batsmen, who kept rotating the strike to unsettle the bowlers, and more importantly, keep the scoreboard moving.

Pathan decided to do what he is best at. Smash. There were a few heaves off both James Faulkner and Watson, some of which ended up beyond the fence. But at the other end, Pandey was struggling to get a meaty connection often enough. After a-run-a-ball 21, he fell to Kulkarni, and an important stand that had yielded 56 runs was broken.

While Pandey wasn’t exactly the perfect hitting partner for Pathan, Russell certainly was. As long as the two were in the middle, the chase was very much alive. Watson’s assault earlier was devastating, but this was a two-pronged attack, and if anything, more of a visceral thrill. Here were two huge, powerful men, smashing wood on leather with enough power to work the Large Hadron Collider. Russell – dropped by Faulkner on 11 – took a particular liking to Watson and Saran, one of his sixes off the latter clearing the park.

Theirs was an important stand in what seemed an increasingly plausible chase. But Morris returned with an inspired spell that put the brakes on, albeit all too briefly. A mis-hit saw Russell dismissed, before an absolute ripper – bounce, movement and pace – had Suryakumar Yadav feathering an edge.

With five overs to go, Kolkata still needed 56 to win. Much rested on the in-form Pathan, which was why when Watson had him holing out soon after, it was as good as game over. Rajasthan certainly celebrated as though they had the game in the bag. When Azhar Mahmood and Piyush Chawla were dismissed in subsequent overs, it seemed all too certain.

The resistance came from an unlikely source – Umesh Yadav claimed 20 runs off Faulkner in the penultimate over, three fours sandwiching an almighty six. But it was too little too late, and the excellent Morris saw through the final over to seal a massive win.

Courtesy: Wisden India