Ajinkya Rahane played a crucial innings of 34 not out in Rajasthan's chase. (BCCI)
Jaipur: A stabilizing fourth-wicket stand between Ajinkya Rahane and debutant Sanju Samson ensured Rajasthan Royals came up on the right end of a see-saw chase of a small target of 125 against Kings XI Punjab at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium on Sunday. A wayward opening spell from Ryan Harris was followed by a double-wicket maiden eighth over from Praveen Kumar, but even the loss off the vastly experienced Brad Hodge did not deter Rahane from accomplishing his task. Samson, aged 18, followed three catches behind the wicket and a run out with a cool innings that allowed Rahane to bat out the innings.
In truth, the match was won in the field when Rajasthan's bowlers used a tricky Jaipur surface to bowl Punjab out for 124. Sreeesanth bounced back from a poor previous match to set the tone for Rajasthan's stellar work by prizing out the openers in the second over, and from here the highest stand KXIP could muster was 35 for the fourth wicket. Barring David Hussey's 31-ball 41 there was no bite as the home team was bowled out in 18.5 overs.
KXIP were forced to play catch up right from the start, a predicament brought about by their batsmen's urge to attack. Adam Gilchrist made 0 as he drove Sreesanth tamely to mid-off and four balls later, Mandeep Singh slashed outside off stump and found Stuart Binny at third man. Hussey called Manan Vohra for a nonexistent single in front of point from where James Faulkner nailed a direct hit, and at 10 for 3 in the fourth over the home team was on the back foot.
Hussey ensured the innings did not capsize with a punch innings: he drove Ajit Chandila over mid-off for six and then slapped Kevon Cooper for boundaries in his first over. However, just when it looked like a partnership was threatening, Gurkeerat Mann nibbled Siddharth Trivedi to Samson.
The wickets remained a steady procession. R Sathish edged Faulkner to Samson, Hussey drove Trivedi to mid-off, and Kevon Cooper picked out Piyush Chawla and Azhar Mahmood in consecutive overs. Praveen swung 15 off seven balls before he was run out after wandering down the pitch, and off the next ball Faulkner had Parvinder Awana caught behind for figures of 2 for 30.
KXIP needed wickets to make a match of it, but these were not forthcoming. Harris beat the bat during his opening spell but also strayed onto the pads to allow Shane Watson to drive through the line with ease. Watson feasted on such wayward bowling, crunching five boundaries off Harris with the pick of the lot being a ramrod-straight drive that rocketed down the ground.
Watson welcomed Awana with two gorgeous fours - one over mid-on and the other through extra cover - before chipping the same bowler to mid-on for 32 off 19 balls. Two quick breakthroughs from Praveen, getting Rahul Dravid and Stuart Binny to nick to Gilchrist during a superb double-wicket maiden eighth over, gave Punjab further reason to celebrate.
Brad Hodge helped put on 21 in five overs with Rahane before he was trapped lbw to Chawla for 15, after which Harris spilled Samson at first slip. Samson took the opportunity in his hands, hitting three pretty boundaries in an unbeaten 22 on IPL debut. Rahane had been a spectator while Watson was going ballistic and after Praveen's twin strikes he reverted to grafting his runs. He ensured the asking rate did not get out of hands by punishing any errors in length and collected an unbeaten 34 off 42 balls.