Yuvraj Singh built on the platform openers Aaron Finch and Robin Uthappa had set up to guide Pune Warriors India to a seven-wicket win over Rajasthan Royals in a third-round IPL encounter for both sides here on Thursday, as the home team chased down 145 in 18.4 overs.
Rahul Dravid batted like a champion for the visitors, pulled off a stunning catch and marshalled his resources in style but his bowlers cracked under pressure.
Royals’ spin-swing gambit did not work against the explosive stroke-play from Uthappa (32, 16 balls, 3x4, 2x6) and Finch (64, 53 balls 6x4, 3x6). Left-arm spinner Harmeet Singh and Sreesanth wilted in the heat as the openers put on 58 runs off 31 balls.
After James Faulkner claimed Finch’s wicket, Yuvraj (28, 23 balls, 2x4, 2x6) took over and saw his team home.
While Finch, a replacement for Michael Clarke, showed a penchant for big hitting, Uthappa was devastating — unlike in the two previous games — going after Harmeet and then blasting Sreesanth out of the attack.
With matters slipping out of hand, Dravid held a brilliant catch at mid-wicket to send back Uthappa.
Royals then banked on canny West Indian seamer Kevon Cooper to apply the brakes after 64 runs were snatched in the PowerPlay. Having set a scorching pace, PWI crossed 87 runs in 10 overs and the tie was poised on a knife edge.
Ross Taylor’s impatience against Harmeet brought about his downfall.
Yuvraj’s entry in the 12th over was greeted with a roar. Finch and Yuvraj chipped away in a battle of wits with Royals bowlers. The former fell at 131, 15 runs away from the target, leaving a patient Yuvraj to pilot the chase, and the left-hander sealed victory with a casual flicked six off Sreesanth, with eight balls remaining.
The win saw PWI open its account at home this season, after two embarrassing losses.
After Dravid won the toss and opted to bat, he treated the fans to some classical strokeplay. His innings (54, 8x4) was a 48-ball lesson for team-mates, rivals and aspiring youngsters that batting in T20 does not need to be all about muscle if the basics are in place and the mind is clear. He started off with flicks off the pad, he stepped back for fierce cuts, he stepped down the track to drive down the ground.
PWI kept at it, hoping for a mistake and was rewarded. Dravid made room for a fierce shot through cover, but found Taylor clinging on to a left-handed catch.
Leg-spinner Rahul Sharma was pressed into service in the sixth over, and Yuvraj Singh followed in the seventh.
RR stole 40 runs in the PowerPlay overs and 32 in the next five, and at no stage did the bowling look threatening.
Rahane kept the runs coming, and watched his senior partner dominate the strike and race to 43-ball 50.
But his knock eventually went in vain.
Rajasthan Royals: Kusal Perera lbw b Bhuvneshwar 0 (1b), Ajinkya Rahane c Mathews b Rahul 30 (27b, 3x4), Rahul Dravid c Taylor b Yuvraj 54 (48b, 8x4), Stuart Binny c Marsh b Yuvraj 1 (4b), Brad Hodge (not out) 22 (19b, 3x4), Dishant Yagnik c Suman b Rahul 12 (8b, 2x4), James Faulkner (not out) 19 (14b, 1x4, 1x6); Extras (lb-3, nb-1, w-3): 7; Total ( for five wkts. in 20 overs): 145.
Fall of wickets: 1-0 (Perera), 2-81 (Rahane), 3-85 (Binny), 4-93 (Dravid), 5-106 (Yagnik).
Pune Warriors bowling: Bhuvneshwar Kumar 4-0-41-1, Ashok Dinda 3-0-21-0, Angelo Mathews 4-0-27-0, Rahul Sharma 4-0-16-2, Yuvraj Singh 4-0-27-2, Mitchell Marsh 1-0-10-0.
Pune Warriors: Robin Uthappa c Dravid b Faulkner 32 (16b, 3x4, 2x6), Aaron Finch b Faulkner 64 (53b, 6x4, 3x6), Ross Taylor c Hodge b Harmeet 17 (20b, 1x6), Yuvraj Singh (not out) 28 (23b, 2x4, 2x6), Angelo Mathews (not out) 1 (1b); Extras (lb-2, w-3, nb-1): 6; Total (for two wkts. in 18.4 overs): 148.
Fall of wickets: 1-58 (Uthappa), 2-104 (Taylor), 3-131 (Finch).
Rajasthan Royals bowling: Harmeet Singh 4-0-34-1, S. Sreesanth 2.4-0-38-0, James Faulkner 4-0-17-2, Kevon Cooper 4-0-26-0, Siddharth Trivedi 4-0-31-0.
Man-of-the-match: Aaron Finch.