Rajasthan Royals were made to fight hard, but they eventually ensured that Rahul Dravid's "No.1 scenario" came to pass with a four-wicket win against Otago Volts at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur on Tuesday (October 1). (Scorecard)
A triple-wicket maiden from the returning Rahul Shukla at the start of Otago's innings gave Rajasthan early control of the match, but they needed the continuing good form of Ajinkya Rahane (52 off 48) and the calm poise of Brad Hodge in the death overs (52 not out off 23) to pull them out of the woods. (Highlights)
Otago, who had made a creditable 139 for 7 after a top-order collapse, gave it their all, but Rajasthan got home in 19.1 overs as Hodge proved to be the difference between victory and defeat. (Match in pics)
Rajasthan maintained their spotless record at home for 2013, and topped Group A, ensuring an October 4 semifinal at the same venue against the second-placed Group B team. They also kept Mumbai Indians' hopes alive, though Otago did themselves a favour by fighting so hard. Their net run-rate was 0.869 after the match, and Mumbai, who stand at 0.09, would have to work hard to not only win against Perth Scorchers on Wednesday, but do it by a big enough margin to pip Otago on net run-rate*.
Otago, however, couldn't prevent Rajasthan from ending their winning streak, which came to a halt after 15 games.
Rajathan began their chase with Rahane hitting crisp boundaries and flowing drives. Rahane and Dravid put on 49 in 6.4 overs, before Dravid fell for ten. Rajasthan were hit hard, losing Sanju Samson, Shane Watson and Stuart Binny in quick succession to sink to 72 for 4 in 12.1 overs. That was when Rahane and Hodge got together for a 44-run stand off 29 balls that put the innings back on track.
Rahane got to a second successive half-century, but fell soon after to James Neesham, Otago's hero in the tied Super Over win against Highveld Lions who enjoyed another superb day, doing well with bat and ball. Neesham had accounted for Watson and Samson, and hit 32 off 25 earlier, but his fine all-round effort wasn't enough to prevent defeat.
With Rahane gone, Rajasthan needed 24 off the final three overs, and Hodge settled the issue with six and four in Ian Butler's next over. Fittingly, he hit the winning boundary to bring up his half-century in the final over.
The Rajasthan bowling attack performed as one cohesive unit, but Shukla was the undoubted star. Handed the ball in the fourth over, he had Hamish Rutherford bowled by one that moved in between bat and pad, trapped Brendon McCullum in front with a fuller delivery that came in, and foxed Derek de Boorder with a short one outside off stump that was popped back in the air towards the bowler.
From a cautious 16 for no loss, Otago were 20 for 3 - courtesy four leg-byes - and fighting a losing battle in conditions that offered value for shots for batsmen.
Neil Broom then fell in the next over to Watson, and Otago were only revived by a 53-run fifth-wicket stand between Neesham and Ryan ten Doeschate.
Given their batting depth, Otago could have still hoped for a total in excess of 150, but although Neesham and ten Doeschate (26 off 27) stuck around, they couldn't pile on a higher score. Late blows by Butler, who hit two sixes in an 18-ball 25, and Nathan McCullum (28 not out off 20) pushed the score along, but against a team who seem to acquire a few extra dimensions on this particular ground, it wasn't special enough.
* Mumbai need to win by 49 runs, or with 34 balls remaining in the chase, in order to make the semifinals.