Rajasthan Royals’ big guns — Ben Stokes and Sanju Samson — stood up and delivered in a must-win clash against defending champions Mumbai Indians on Sunday.
Both batsmen have struggled in the last few games and their form was a concern. However, both of them struck form today to help RR maintain their commanding record against Mumbai Indians.
Despite losing Quinton de Kock in the first over, MI got off to a good start. Ishan Kishan may have got runs at just over a run-a-ball (and scored 37) but Suryakumar Yadav made it up as he scored 40 in 26 balls. The uncapped Indian duo shared an 83-run stand which came off 59 balls. However, both of them were dismissed in the span of two overs and that allowed RR to get back in the game.
The two leg-spinners Shreyas Gopal and Rahul Tewatia applied the squeeze in the middle overs as MI could muster just 32 runs in the phase between over 11 and 16. However, Hardik Pandya who has had an indifferent tournament so far just went berserk and exhibited his ability to turn the momentum of matches around.
He showcased some great power-hitting skills as the Baroda all-rounder smashed a stunning 60 off just 21 balls, including seven sixes.
It was Pandya’s remarkable hitting that propelled MI to a score of 195/5 in their 20 overs, with the last four overs yielding 74 runs. Barring Jofra Archer, the other two RR pacers travelled the distance as Pandya took some liking towards them.
In reply, a fluent-looking Robin Uthappa fell in the second over before Ben Stokes opened up. The England all-rounder looked in fine touch today as he was timing the ball crisply and finding the gaps with ease. However, RR skipper Steve Smith’s struggles continued as he was dismissed for just 11 and RR were 44/2 at that time (in the fifth over).
That is when Sanju Samson joined Stokes in the middle and the duo didn’t look back. While Samson took some time to get his eye in and get going, it was Stokes who was forcing the pace at the other end. And once the Kerala cricketer found his timing and tempo, runs flowed from both ends. Irrespective of who bowled for MI, they travelled the distance.
Stokes registered his first 50+ score for RR in the IPL and eventually, turned it into a match-winning ton (107 off 60 balls). It was the second IPL ton for him and both of them have come while chasing (Stokes became the first batsman to score two IPL tons chasing). Meanwhile, Samson, who hadn’t scored a fifty since RR’s second game, finally ended the drought of runs and complimented Stokes beautifully.
The Stokes-Samson duo put on 152 runs (unbeaten) for the third wicket to take RR home in convincing fashion. RR completed their run chase of 196 with 10 balls to spare and will hope to take the momentum in the remaining two games (against Kings XI Punjab and Kolkata Knight Riders) which are must-win contests as well. The defending champions are still on 14 points though and remain at the top of the points table. That means, they still need one win to seal a spot in the top four.