Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Smith and Pathan script remarkable win

Yusuf Pathan was once again the hero for Rajasthan Royals.

Shane Warne, at the start of the game, had tipped the struggling Graeme Smith to trigger a change in fortunes for Rajasthan Royals, and though he did meet his expectations, staying till the end, it was a monstrous blitz from Yusuf Pathan that blighted Delhi's unbeaten run in the tournament. Spin continued to play a major influence, as Amit Mishra rattled Rajasthan with a three-wicket burst to leave them reeling at 64 for 5. But the presence of a determined Smith exuded assurance, and the ability of Pathan inspired confidence, as the pair wasted little time, amid some fortunate moments, to leave Delhi shell-shocked after they had held the cards for much of the innings.

A target of 144 was a tricky one, but something Rajasthan would have backed themselves to reach after a laudable performance with the ball. However, they almost squandered the effort with a shoddy display by their top and middle order, who left their team staring at a fourth defeat before Yusuf Pathan, along with Smith, turned the tide.

Rajasthan were already pegged back by the time spin was introduced, as the chopping and changing of their opening combination continued to falter. Rob Quiney was pushed up the order, but didn't last long, trapped in front by Ashish Nehra in the fourth over. The inexperience among their young Indian recruits showed, as an impatient Swapnil Asnodkar was run out attempting an impossible run before Mishra sucked in Paul Valthaty - included to beef up Rajasthan's ailing batting line-up - who holed out at long-off.

The tactical break, yet again, favoured the bowling side as Mishra struck back with two wickets in the 11th over, deceiving both Ravindra Jadeja and Shane Warne, who had promoted himself ahead of Pathan, in the flight to put the tactic of leaving a trump card for the last facing the possibility of an embarrassment.

However, Pathan, in a performance reminiscent of his blitzkrieg in the Super Over against Kolkata Knight Riders, ensured that didn't happen, taking just two balls to get a look-in before unleashing his power. He first ended Daniel Vettori's enviable run, depositing him over deep midwicket off successive deliveries, and drilling one past him off the final ball to steal 19 in a match-turning 13th over. Not that Delhi were without an chance. Tillakaratne Dilshan missed an attempt to run Yusuf out in the very next over, and when 31 were needed off 21 deliveries, Sangwan spilled a running catch at long-on, again off Yusuf, palming the ball to the boundary to seal Delhi's fate. The next ball disappeared for six, spoiling Mishra's figures, and Nehra's next over saw two short balls dismissed with ferocity into the stands to hasten Rajasthan's win.

If Yusuf was brute force, Smith was quite the opposite. 19 runs in three innings did not bear testimony to his ability, and his determination to fight it out was well on display as he flicked, nudged, dabbed and swept to ensure the runs kept coming, though he kept his own natural game on hold, taking 14 overs to strike his second boundary. A combination Yusuf's power game and Smith's measured tenacity put Rajasthan back in contention after a disappointing start to the tournament.

Rajasthan's bowlers, led by Munaf Patel, had done an admirable job restricting Delhi to a chaseable score with a frugal display, mixed with variation and boosted by Warne's tactic of shuffling the attack. Though bowling hasn't been a major worry for Rajasthan, with disciplined performances in each of their three completed games, surviving an explosive top-order was expected to be a stern test.

However, a combination of poor shot selection and an ability to extract the most of the conditions gave them a genuine chance of ending Delhi's run in the competition. AB de Villiers and Daniel Vettori led the revival with an attacking 56-run stand which was put to an end by a dodgy decision against de Villiers, who was lbw to a ball from Warne that pitched outside leg. Despite, the setback, Delhi continued to threaten, with Vettori and Mithun Manhas taking 25 off two overs from Warne and Kamran Khan. But Munaf swung the pendulum back Rajasthan's way with a wicket maiden - the wicket of Vettori - at the death.