Rajasthan Royals eliminate Punjab Kings to remain alive in the race for IPL playoff qualification

Shimron Hetmyer smashed 46 runs off 28 balls for the Royals

Rajasthan Royals pulled off a thrilling four-wicket win over Punjab Kings in their last Indian Premier League 2023 group stage match on Friday. 

A win guided Rajasthan Royals to the fifth position in the points table but defeat ended Punjab Kings’ IPL 2023 campaign. Sam Curran, Jitesh Sharma, and Shahrukh Khan dragged Punjab to a challenging total of 187/5 while batting first but Rajasthan’s batters produced an admirable team effort to clinch a win with two balls remaining.

Sanju Samson won the crucial toss and elected to bowl first at Dharamsala’s Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium. Trent Boult and Navdeep Saini returned to the playing XI with Joe Root dropping to the bench.

The veteran spinner Ravichandran Ashwin was absent from the Royals’ team sheet with a back spasm while Punjab Kings remained unchanged despite a disappointing defeat against Delhi Capitals in their last game.

Boult gave Rajasthan a flying start with Prabhsimran Singh’s big wicket on the innings’ very second ball. The Kiwi speedster took a diving catch on his followthrough to add early pressure on the Kings. Skipper Shikhar Dhawan and uncapped Indian batter Atharva Taide played some sensible cricket and added 36 runs for the second wicket.

Taide smashed two back-to-back fours off Navdeep Saini in the fourth over but lost his wicket after two deliveries. In-form English big-hitter Liam Livingstone came to bat at no.4 and finished the fourth over with a four to clear his early intentions.

Samson introduced spin in the form of Adam Zampa in the sixth over and the Australian ace delivered Shikhar Dhawan’s valuable wicket. Zampa’s delivery landed on the pads as the PBKS skipper missed his sweep shot and Punjab’s misery continued as they lost Livingstone in the next over with Saini picking his second wicket of the day.

Sam Curran top-scored with 49 runs off 31 balls for Punjab Kings

Young wicket-keeper batter Jitesh Sharma and Sam Curran played responsible cricket to pull out Punjab from a miserable start. Both batters were defensive with their approach to avoid wickets as Punjab managed to score 62/4 in nine overs. 

Jitesh shifted the gear in the next over by smashing two sixes off Sandeep Sharma and Curran also accelerated his innings to put Punjab Kings on track for a respectable total. Saini gave the Royals breakthrough in the 14th over with Jitesh’s wicket with the latter scoring 44 runs off 28 balls.

Punjab batters lost momentum with Jitesh’s dismissal as Rajasthan bowlers dominated the middle over with greedy spells. But Shahrukh Khan and Curran pulled off 46 runs in the last two overs to finish the innings on a positive note. 

Curran remained unbeaten on 49 off 31 with the help of four fours and two sixes while Shahrukh smashed 41* off 23, including three boundaries in the 20th over. Saini was the best bowler for the Royals camp with three wickets while Boult and Zampa picked one each.

While chasing a tough total, Jaiswal continued his red-hot form this season with three consecutive fours off Curran in the first over. But it was completely the opposite story from the other end as Jos Buttler produced his third consecutive duck, his fifth in IPL 2023.

Kagiso Rabada put his delivery in line on good length as Buttler missed his flick shot. Umpire was quick to raise his finger and the English star walked off the pitch with another disappointing display. Rajasthan’s management promoted left-handed Devdutt Padikkal to the no.3 position to tackle Rabada and the move worked perfectly for the Royals. With two left-handed batters on the pitch, Punjab’s pacers failed to build up momentum on Buttler’s wicket.

Padikkal produced his best knock of this season as he took charge to put Royals in the driving seat in the early overs. Padikkal and Jaiswal played sensible cricket and avoided risky shots but kept the scoreboard moving with one eye on the required run rate. The duo added 73 runs for the second-wicket stand to put the Royals in a comfortable position.

Padikkal registered his second half-century of this season as he reached the 50-run mark in just 29 balls in the tenth over. Arshdeep Singh gave Punjab a breakthrough in the same over with Padikkal’s wicket as Harpreet Brar took an easy catch at backward point. But Padikkal’s quick knock helped Rajasthan score 86 runs in the first ten overs after losing just two wickets.

The Royals lost skipper Samson in the next over as Punjab Kings balanced the game. Samson went for a big shot over the deep square leg off Rahul Chahar’s delivery but substitute Rishi Dhawan bagged an easy catch. Rajasthan were suddenly on the backfoot after losing two big wickets in back-to-back overs but Shimron Hetmyer rescued the Royals yet once again.

The Caribbean big-hitter ended his poor run of form with a sensational knock of 46 runs off 28 balls as Rajasthan regained their momentum quickly. Hetmyer and Riyan Parag added 32 runs for the fifth wicket with the latter scoring 20 off just 12. Parag’s cameo put Rajasthan in the favorites category to chase just 19 runs in the last two overs.

Hetmyer recorded two fours from the first four deliveries in the 19th over but lost his wicket with Shikhar producing a stunning dive to take a big wicket. Chahar bowled the last over as Punjab ran out of options and it cost them a match. Young finisher Dhruv Jurel finished the game with a six when the Royals needed five runs to win off the last three deliveries.

There was not a big celebration from the Royals’ camp as they failed to surpass Royal Challengers Bangalore in the points table due to a slight difference in net run rate. 

RCB play the table-toppers Gujarat Titans in the last group stage match of the tournament. The Royals need RCB to lose the game and also hope for a defeat for Mumbai Indians who face already eliminated Sunrisers Hyderabad in their last game on Sunday.