In an intense bidding battle with Mumbai Indians, Rajasthan Royals spent Rs 4.40 crore to secure the services of Jos Buttler in the 2019 Indian Premier League (IPL) player auction. Due to England's international fixtures prior to the World Cup, there were question marks surrounding his availability for the entire season. Yet, the Rajasthan think-tank was determined to invest in him. And on Saturday evening, by breaching Mumbai's fortress almost single-handedly with a sizzling knock of 89 off 43, the English keeper-batsman has thoroughly justified the remuneration.
Having won just one out their six encounters this season, Rajasthan came to Wankhede being a little bit under the pump. They failed to defend 17 in the last over against Chennai in their previous fixture and that defeat must have dented their confidence. Furthermore, prior to this crucial encounter against Mumbai, the Royals were handicapped by the absence of their premier all-rounder Ben Stokes, who was ruled out with an injury.
Hence, the odds were not exactly favouring the visitors coming into this game.
Nevertheless, Ajinkya Rahane won that crucial toss and had no hesitation to chase at the Wankhede. However, the Mumbai batters put up a valiant show to set a challenging target of 188 for Rajasthan to get. And prior to this fixture, they had never lost at home while defending a total.
So, at the halfway stage Mumbai had their nose ahead.
It was a typical Wankhede pitch which suited the stroke-players. And having played for Mumbai in the previous seasons, Buttler was very much aware of the conditions. He also knew that the opposition would go all out to target his wicket in the initial overs. So, very wisely, at the start of the run-chase, it was Rahane not Buttler, who played the role of an aggressor.
Buttler was happy to play the second-fiddle in the 38-ball 60 run opening stand, which provided an early impetus for Rajasthan during that stiff run-chase. However, once Rahane got out soon after the powerplay, the Englishman took charge.
With the field being pushed back, Rohit Sharma, the Mumbai skipper introduced spin from both ends. The asking rate was around nine and he expected the slow bowlers to make this equation more stiffer for Rajasthan. But being an experienced campaigner, Buttler read the situation brilliantly. He knew Jasprit Bumrah would bowl three overs in the death, which is going to be the trump card for the home team. So, he went after young Rahul Chahar and Krunal Pandya. And thanks to his feet movement and flair, Buttler had a very little trouble doing so.
He hit a few sixes against the slow bowlers and it forced Rohit to bring his pacers back in the attack. But they failed to get the breakthrough and Rajasthan stormed to 100 for 1 after 10 overs. Buttler scored his half century in just 29 balls, and in the subsequent 13 deliveries, he scored 39, exactly what the team needed.
Meanwhile, Buttler's most brutal assault came in the 13th over when he slammed Alazarri Joseph for 28 runs (6, 4, 4, 4, 4, 6). It was a reality check for the young pacer who claimed the best figure in the history of IPL (6 for 12) on his debut this season. Such was Buttler's reflexes that he produced boundaries off perfectly bowled yorkers. He squeezed those deliveries past short third-man to the fence with ease.
Due to that onslaught, the equation was down to a run-a-ball 42. At that point, it seemed Rajasthan would get to the target with two-three overs to spare.
However, that was not the case. After Buttler was hold out at long-off in the bowling of leg-spinner Chahar in the 14th over, the rest of batting almost made a mess of that run-chase. Though eventually, thanks to the late flourish by Shreyas Gopal, they did manage to cross the finishing line with just three balls to spare.
"I'm playing the best cricket I've played for a long period of time," the man of the moment Buttler said in the post-match presentation. "That's why I was disappointed to get out when I did. We've seen in this tournament, when you give teams a bit of a sniff, they can come back. Will take a lot of confidence from the win. Coming here and beating Mumbai is a tough task."
In the context of the league table, these two points will provide Rajasthan a breathing space. Thanks to this triumph, primarily down to the power-hitting of Buttler, the Royals are still in the race for a playoff spot.