On a pitch with a rare tinge of green, Rajasthan Royals, led by Rahul Dravid, opted to go in with an unprecedented all-pace attack comprising five fast bowlers, and defeated Kolkata Knight Riders by 19 runs to register their second consecutive win in the Indian Premier League on Monday (April 8).
Eoin Morgan nearly made the difference in the end on a night when none of the other Kolkata batsmen applied themselves in testing conditions at the Sawai Man Singh Stadium in Jaipur. At 56 for six in 11 overs, chasing 145, the game looked dead and buried in Rajasthan's favour before the momentum swung back, courtesy of Morgan.
His 38-ball 51 kept Kolkata afloat till the penultimate over, albeit by a slim margin. But every time he tried to counter-attack, came an untimely wicket to peg Kolkata further back and ultimately hand them a demoralizing loss.
It came as no surprise when Gautam Gambhir, the Kolkata captain, asked Rajasthan to bat first. The move was vindicated in the very first over by Brett Lee, who got the ball to zip across the surface consistently. That was just a sign of things to come on a night that offered prodigious swing, catching the batsmen of both teams off guard.
Despite the bowlers thriving in favourable conditions, the architect of the victory was Brad Hodge, coming in at No. 5, who set things up for Rajasthan with an unbeaten 42. With very little momentum by his side, he quietly worked his way through with ones and twos before exploding in the last two overs. The cause was further helped by Dishant Yagnik's cameo of 16, which gave Rajasthan post 144 for 6 in 20 overs.
Shane Watson's much anticipated return was the talking point in the build-up to the game, but the hype lasted all of ten deliveries, when he was dismissed in the third over by Lee to peg back Rajasthan right at the outset.
When Rahul Dravid walked in at No. 3, there was an air of familiarity to the situation. Although he managed to play one exquisite cover drive off Jacques Kallis, enough to satisfy the thirst of the purists, he couldn't quite carry forward the authority he had displayed in the opening game.
Ajinkya Rahane, although patient, built the foundation with a solid 36 with the help of three fours and a six, before being foxed by Sunil Narine, who stalled Rajasthan's progress in the middle by picking up two wickets. In the end, Hodge's late flourish took them to a competitive, if not a match-winning total.
In S Sreesanth and Shaun Tait, Rajasthan had the ammunition to dent Kolkata upfront, but the fire was ignited by an unlikely source in Rahul Shukla, the 22-year old Jharkhand seamer. He struck twice in his opening over, getting Jacques Kallis out for a first-ball duck as Kolkata were reduced to 20 for 2 in the third over. Shukla's double strike galvanised Rajasthan, and the mantle was then passed on to Siddharth Trivedi, who picked up three wickets, including that of Gambhir (22), brilliantly caught behind after a reckless stroke.
Rajat Bhatia, a veteran of the domestic scene, provided a glimmer of hope but when his well-timed pull found the deep midwicket fielder, there was an air of inevitability about Kolkata's slump. Morgan, who struck three sixes, finally fell to Kevon Cooper, leaving 35,000 spectators to soak in another memorable victory.