It was the battle of the underdogs in the first eliminator. Two teams which would have been among the least favourites at the beginning of the tournament had punched way above their weight and found themselves just two steps away from the IPL finals. The Sunrisers were favourites to win this bout as they possessed arguably the best bowling unit this year and the pitch was very much to their liking. But it was the Royals, courtesy Brad Hodge, who emerged the victors. They will now meet the Mumbai Indians in the second eliminator.
With the pitch being a bit on the slower side, the Royals restricted the Sunrisers to 132. It could have been much lower but some power hitting from Thisara Perera and Darren Sammy towards the end gave the Hyderabad team a good finish. Vikramjeet Malik playing only his second match of the season was the pick of the bowlers finishing with 2-14 in his three overs upfront.
Royals opened with the trusted, “romantic” pair of Rahul Dravid- Ajinkya Rahane. Being a tricky total, it was imperative that the Royals didn't lose early wickets. However, it was not to be. The Sunrisers attack weaved their magic and the Royals were slumped to 57 for 5 at the end of 10 overs.
The pick of the wickets being the one of Shane Watson. Watson unleashed one of his trademark pull shots of Karan Sharma. It was travelling past the mid-wicket boundary, until Sammy timed his jump to perfection and produced a catch-of-the-season contender. With all the major batsmen bat in the hut, an undercooked Faulkner and Cooper still waiting in the wings, all eyes were on Brad Hodge.
Dravid has been criticised for giving Hodge less playing time, given the batsman’s calibre. Hodge was used more as a finisher than as someone who the Royals could build their innings around. And just when it mattered, Hodge proved that Dravid was right yet again. The asking rate was not very high, it was hovering around 7.5 – 8. It was the Sunrisers leggies along with the pitch which could have played tricks. Giving Hodge company was the young Samson who was finding the going tough.
Hodge brought out his A-game and unleashed an assault as calculated as it can get. Hodge picked his bowlers and relied more on timing, than slogging. The onslaught began in the 14th over, bowled by Karan Sharma. Hodge laid in to him and took 18 from the over. The next over was from Amit Mishra who was also slapped over long off for a maximum. These two overs changed the complexion of the match completely. The Royals needed just 34 of 30, which was quite manageable even with two overs of Steyn to come.
Sanju Samson found Steyn a bit too tough to handle and he was caught plumb in front for 10. Faulkner joined Hodge and struck a couple of crucial boundaries. Royals went into the last over needing 10 to win after Perera had bowled an excellent penultimate over. The man who could do no wrong, Darren Sammy, was handed the duties. His dibbly-dobblies could have been tricky, but Hodge was in his zone. The first two balls he faced were thrashed for sixes and the Royals were through. A match that looked as good as dead for them was resurrected by Hodge all on his own.
In spite of all the issues haunting the Rajasthan Royals and losing three of their key players, the Royals army chugs on. Brad Hodge also broke into an impromptu “rock the baby” cradle celebration after hitting the two sixes. He was perhaps mocking Darren Sammy's ‘pacifier’ celebration, Maybe he was not. But on the day, the cradle got one over the pacifier.