Royals’ win ensures home semifinal

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MAN-OF-THE-MOMENT:Rahul Shukla rattled Otago early with three wickets in one over.— PHOTO: R.V. Moorthy
MAN-OF-THE-MOMENT:Rahul Shukla rattled Otago early with three wickets in one over.— PHOTO: R.V. Moorthy

“I have done a pooja”, chuckled Rahul Dravid a few days ago, when asked to explain Rajasthan Royals’ incredible winning run at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium. The benefits of the skipper’s invocation were revealed on Tuesday, as his side overcame a shaky period to win by four wickets.

While increasing its winning streak to 12, RR brought an end to Otago’s unbeaten run of 16 matches. Perhaps, to bring an end to that remarkable record, nothing but divine intervention would do.

RR finishes top of group A and gets a chance to further embellish its legacy at home when it plays Friday’s semifinal here. Otago, though, will hope nervously that Perth Scorchers, even if it loses, ensures that Mumbai Indians does not sneak through at its expense.

With Ajinkya Rahane in resplendent form, RR began its chase of 140 by scoring 31 off the first three overs. However, Otago’s bowlers slightly pulled back their lengths afterwards to rein in the opposition batsmen. Yet, RR remained in control of proceedings, but a five-over period — from the 10th to the 14th — yielded only 18 runs for the loss of Sanju Viswanadh, Shane Watson and Stuart Binny.

The arrival of Brad Hodge lifted the pace of the innings, as he struck the first boundary for 30 balls in the 15th over. A couple of fours and sixes by the Australian followed soon to reduce the required equation to 27 off 21 balls, but Rahane’s dismissal ensured RR was still not in comfortable territory.

However, Hodge was in no mood to relent and, thanks to a little assistance by Kevon Cooper, guided his team home with five balls remaining.

Inspired move

Earlier, Dravid expectedly decided to bat second and replaced Vikramjeet Malik with Rahul Shukla. It proved to be an inspired move as the 23-year-old rattled Otago with a triple strike in his first over — the innings’ fourth. Hamish Rutherford was bowled by a full ball, Brendon McCullum was trapped lbw to an incoming delivery and Derek de Boorder looped a shorter one to be dismissed caught and bowled.

Neil Broom joined the trio in the dugout in the next over, as his attempted hook off Watson was top-edged and snapped up by ‘keeper Viswanadh.

After leading Otago to a thrilling win over Perth on Sunday, Neesham rescued his side through a 53-run partnership off 47 balls with Ryan ten Doeschate. However, the former was caught at long-on when he attempted to lift Cooper’s slower ball for a six.

ten Deoschate was trapped in front by Tambe in the next over to leave Otago reeling at 81 for six. However, Butler and Nathan McCullum played vital cameos to establish a competitive total.

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