New Delhi: It may have been a contest between two teams placed lowest in the IPL standings, but Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab made for perfect rivals in a close game until the visitors ran away with the crucial moments to seal a 31-run victory at the PCA Stadium in Mohali.
Rajasthan Royals won their previous game against Kolkata Knight Riders, but despite a healthy margin of win it lacked the general buzz of T20 cricket. Tonight was different and Rajasthan, for the first time in this tournament, showed signs of what took them to the title two years ago: team work.
The players Rajasthan banked on in previous games finally came good, with Michael Lumb finally coming good. The South Africa-born Englishman made a good start to his innings and ended Rajasthan's woes of losing wickets early. As a result, they didn't lose too many wickets and made good use of the start provided by the top order batsmen.
For the first time in this IPL, Rajasthan have shown signs of the team work that took them to the title.
Adam Voges may have been man of the match, but not mentioning Faiz Fazal's knock would be unfair. The left-hander played an impressive support role and there was no reason for him to hit fifth gear when Voges was providing the necessary impetus. Every batsman got a start and Rajasthan's total was one which their bowlers could defend.
Despite a blazing start, the visitors held their nerve and eked out wickets up front. Tait has been expensive but returned with wickets. Warne was taken up for special treatment from the young Manvinder Bisla but returned the favour with his wicket. It was, however, Siddharth Trivedi's spell that began Punjab's slide with Yuvraj's wicket. Trivedi has impressed in both Rajasthan's victories with clever change of pace.
Punjab, on the other hand, must claw back immediately before it's too late for them. They have lost four of their five games - the fifth a fortunate Super Over contest - and they need to re-arrange their batting order soon. Sangakkara did well to open the innings and it bore immediate results, but the arrival of Shaun Marsh may well make them think of drafting him in for Ravi Bopara. He has sure played his part but Marsh would provide much needed solidity.
Mahela Jayawardene is batting far too low in the order to make an impact. He looked good for his cameo, but he would serve his team better if he bats in the top three. But their conundrum is heightened by the success of young Manvinder Bisla, who has been a revelation for his team, and Yuvraj Singh's lean patch.
Their domestic players have been impressive but for Mohammad Kaif's poor run. They have the all-rounder Reetinder Singh Sodhi in their ranks and his inclusion would lend more teeth in the bowling line-up as well.
Punjab's reinforcements in the form of Shaun Marsh and Brett Lee would be itching to return to the playing field when their team takes on Kolkata Knight Riders. The side must get its balance right and Kolkata, not in their best form either, gives them a chance to return to winning ways.
Rajasthan, on the flip-side scored a hard-fought victory over Punjab and their next clash against Deccan Chargers will prove just how much they have improved to fire against the top teams in the league.