Royals fall flat after Watson century
Chennai Super Kings 204 for 5 (Watson 106, Raina 46) beat Rajasthan Royals 140 (Stokes 45, Karn 2-13, Bravo 2-16, Thakur 2-18, Chahar 2-30) by 64 runs. For the 1000-odd Chennai Super Kings fans who endured the 26-hour train journey to Pune, this was a night to remember. For Rahul Tripathi, a Pune boy who plays his domestic cricket for Maharashtra at the MCA Stadium, this was a night to forget. He put down a regulation catch at slip to reprieve Shane Watson in the first over of the match and watched him smack the season’s second century, off 51 balls, against his former side, with whom he masterminded a fairytale a decade ago. Watson and Suresh Raina, who replaced M Vijay, joined forces in the fifth over. When they were separated courtesy an outstanding catch by K Gowtham at deep midwicket, they had put on 81 off just 44 deliveries, with CSK in line to score 240. Some fine end-overs bowling by legspinner Shreyas Gopal and Ben Laughlin restricted them to 204, but that was hardly any consolation for Rajasthan Royals, who never got going in the chase and were bowled out for 140 in 18.3 overs.
They said he was a spent force. His previous season with Royal Challengers Bangalore was a disaster by any stretch of imagination, just like it was for Thursday’s centurion Chris Gayle. While Gayle came into the tournament in patchy form, Watson was the fifth-highest run-getter (319 runs in 10 matches at a strike rate of 135.16) in the PSL season that finished late last month. Watson announced himself inside the first six overs. This made the generally effervescent Raina look subdued in comparison. But that was only until he launched Ben Stokes for four successive fours in the sixth over to move CSK to 69 for 1, their highest Powerplay score this season. That was the start of a giant yellow party that continued until the end of the match. In two of the first three matches, Watson had got off to starts but fell trying to muscle the ball. Here, there was a calculated effort to bide his time, but that wasn’t at the cost of scoring quickly. It also helped that the Royals bowlers, particularly K Gowtham and Stuart Binny, kept feeding him long-hops.
Gowtham went for 31 off the 13 balls he bowled to Watson, including three sixes and one four while half of Binny’s ten balls to Watson disappeared to the boundary. Watson profited from the pull, with his leg-side strokes fetching him 63 runs in all. He ended up with a control percentage of 84, noteworthy in a T20 innings of this length, and reflecting the ease with which he picked apart Royals’ bowling. Watson reached his half-century with a slog sweep for six off his 28th ball. The next 50 took just 23 balls, the landmark coming in the 18th over with a single completed to the backdrop of wild cheers and manic whistles and celebrated with a subdued lift of the arms. He was dismissed off the penultimate ball of the innings for 106 off 57 balls, with nine fours and six sixes. He slowed down towards the end, making only 15 off the last 12 balls he faced, but it didn’t cost his team much.
In an innings where CSK were motoring along at close to 11 an over for a better part of their first 15 overs, legspinner Shreyas Gopal maintained a tight leash and conceded just two fours in his four overs, ending up with figures of 3 for 20. The reward for his persistence were the wickets of Raina and MS Dhoni in successive overs. Then he returned for his final over, the 16th of the innings, to dismiss the in-form Sam Billings. These strikes somewhat softened Watson’s stinging blows at the other end, with Royals managing to put some sort of lid on the scoring in the last seven overs, which only went for 54. Gopal’s wickets this season also include Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers.
Tripathi strikes at over 10 an over in the Powerplay, but Royals have pushed him into the middle order to accommodate D’Arcy Short. On Friday, Royals left out Short but did not open with Tripathi, instead sending out Heinrich Klaasen. Klaasen was dropped by Watson at slip off the second ball of the innings, but he couldn’t capitalise. Indecisive footwork cost him big as Shardul Thakur’s length ball skidded through to beat his feeble push and crash into middle stump. Off the next over, Royals’ best batsman this season, Sanju Samson, fell to the pull shot for 2. When Ajinkya Rahane was bowled after charging down the pitch and missing Deepak Chahar’s knuckle ball, Royals were 33 for 3 in the fifth over.
As steep their task was from there on, Royals had some hope with Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes in the middle. Both had trouble revving up the scoring rate. This forced shots out of desperation. While a few came off, like a Buttler six off Imran Tahir that sailed over long-on, CSK were always in with a chance of breaking the partnership. When Dwayne Bravo’s slower delivery felled Buttler, who sliced a catch to point, the chase was well and truly over. Then, Tripathi came out slogging, and holed out to deep midwicket. Out came the Bravo jig as whatever else Royals did from there on only served to “reduce the quantum of defeat”, as MS Dhoni put it the other night. Stokes top-scored with 45, taking 37 balls to make his runs.