In the end, the endgame mattered. The big difference was in the death overs. During RR’s innings, overs 16 to 20 resulted in 77 runs and just one wicket (15.4 RPO) as Riyan Parag went ballistic. In contrast, DC managed 53/1 (10.6 RPO). Central to that was Sandeep Sharma and Avesh Khan, the two Indian pacers in RR’s wonderfully varied bowling attack.

One of the decisive factors in the match against Lucknow Super Giants was Sandeep’s bowling in the death overs, and for the second game running, he delivered for his captain. The bowling figures might not necessarily flatter Sandeep on the night (0/36) but in the 19th over, he bounced back beautifully after going for 10 runs off the first two balls. Then with 17 to defend in the last over, it was Avesh’s turn to trust his practice, stick to the plans and nail the fuller-length deliveries.


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“It’s all about gauging which zone they are in. You have to look at that and make your decision. I saw Sandy was calm, he had a really good game last time as well, and Avesh was also looking good. So I went with them,” skipper Sanju Samson explained in the end.

Forced review leads to a wicket

Skipper Rishabh Pant didn’t really want to review, but Kuldeep Yadav went up to him and literally forced the wicketkeeper’s hands into making the ‘T’ sign. After a start that was slow by even ODI standards, with Yashasvi Jaiswal and Sanju Samson already back in the dugout, Jos Buttler had had enough and went for a reverse-sweep. But this version of Buttler is not even close to the one that dominated the IPL from the top of the Rajasthan Royals order and is struggling to make an impact. The Englishman failed to make contact, and Kuldeep’s vociferous appeal was turned down by the umpire. The left-arm wrist-spinner, however, was not willing to take ‘no’ for an answer. Enthused by a few occasions in the recent Test series against England when ‘not out’ decisions were overturned on review, he went to the Delhi Capitals captain, who maybe felt the ball pitched outside leg-stump, and got his way. As it turned out, the replay showed the ball pitched in line and was smashing the stumps. Kuldeep, who is not short of confidence these days, was vindicated yet again. Pant gave him a sheepish high-five as the home side sunk deeper into trouble.

Power-hitting Ashwin goes for maximums

Ravichandran Ashwin’s bowling is talked about more than his batting these days, and rightly so, with him achieving milestone after milestone in the longest format. At one point, Ashwin, with five Test hundreds under his belt, used to bat as high as No.6 in Test cricket. Despite his diminishing returns with the bat, Ashwin’s timing remains his best ally. He unfurled three sixes, two of them beautiful pull shots against express fast bowler Anrich Nortje. For his first six, he went down the track to left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav. These were not ugly whacks but good cricket shots. A cameo which gave a glimpse of the batting talent in India’s lead Test spinner. The power-hitter in Ashwin came to the fore on Thursday and Rajasthan Royals will hope for more such innings from the all-rounder who started off as an opening batsman in junior cricket.

Riyan’s redemption

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. There were rumours of a more mature Riyan Parag after a prolific domestic white-ball season. The Assam batsman showed glimpses in Rajasthan Royals’ first game of the season batting at No.4, but on Thursday, with the team in trouble, the 22-year-old stepped up. The big guns – Yashasvi Jaiswal, Jos Buttler and Sanju Samson – didn’t contribute much. But Parag, who had been trolled a lot for his lack of returns in previous seasons, had a sedate start when the going was tough, before branching out. He let pinch-hitter Ravichandran Ashwin go after the bowling but after his dismissal took the lead in partnership with Dhruv Jurel. Parag was 4 off 9 balls and 15 off 19, before getting into overdrive as he reached a half-century in 34 balls. A couple of long-hops by the spinners got him into the groove, before Parag took a liking to Khaleel Ahmed, who had had a good evening till then. A length ball on the hips was helped along for a six, an attempted wide yorker found the point boundary and a full ball was smashed over extra-cover. It was then the turn of Mukesh Kumar to feel the heat as he went for a four and a six in the 16ht over. Kuldeep Yadav was then thumped over midwicket for a maximum. A 25-run final over off Anrich Nortje took Parag to an unbeaten 84 off 45 balls. Some redemption this.

Full-on confusion

Rishabh Pant and David Warner got into a massive mix-up in the middle. Pant sends Warner back after tapping one to cover, but it was too late. Well, at least it should have been. Yashasvi Jaiswal got to the ball quickly enough at cover, and had time to lob a throw to R Ashwin, the bowler, at the non-striker’s end. But Jaiswal sends a throw on the bounce from close range. Ashwin failed to gather it and vented his anger at Jaiswal. But Ashwin could have done better himself. The throw came at a good height to him even though he wasn’t anticipating the pace and bounce on it. One of the cliches in this sport is ‘Good cricket all around’. Well, this was just the opposite. Mistakes all around.

Frustration for Pant

Before Rishabh Pant’s highly-anticipated comeback at the IPL, Stuart Broad and Steve Smith made an important point in the Star Sports studio. There is a need to manage expectations around him. Out of high-level cricket for nearly a year and a half, it was always going to be difficult to get up to speed to the levels of IPL. No amount of net sessions or practice matches would be enough to get his match rhythm up to the highest level. It was visible in the opening match against Punjab Kings, despite showing glimpses of his entertaining self. And in Jaipur, Pant understandably struggled for timing. He started with a lovely guided shot for four but after that, despite the intent, couldn’t find the boundaries frequently enough. As Rajasthan Royals tightened the run-flow, Pant fell trying to cut Yuzvendra Chahal.

As he walked off the pitch, one could sense the frustration in his stride, and it bubbled over as he crossed the sightscreen and swung his bat in anger. Patience will be key for Pant going forward. Perhaps he needs to manage his own expectations.


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