(ESPNCRICINFO) – Both the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Rajasthan Royals had come into this game knowing it was not just must-win, but they needed to win it with a big margin to get some playoff security. Both teams showed the intent to go hard, and maximise their chances, but it was the Knight Riders who came out smiling at the end, having romped to a 60-run victory that vaulted them from last place in the points table to fourth.
The margin of the win meant their net run rate had lifted to -0.214, within touching distance of the Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Delhi Capitals, with all three teams on 14 points. A big enough loss for either of those two, when they face off on Monday, could see the losing team slip below the Knight Riders, an important cushion should qualification come down to net run rates. The first game on Sunday had already seen the Kings XI Punjab crash out with a defeat to the Chennai Super Kings, smoothening the way further for the Knight Riders.
Intent was shown before the game itself, when the Knight Riders included a still not fully fit Andre Russell for this match. The thinking was evident: with the season on the line, you need one of T20’s best players in the XI.
Eoin Morgan led the way with the bat, while Pat Cummins was devastating with the ball, as the Knight Riders won crucial passages of play handsomely. Morgan had come in at 74 for 3, after a double-wicket over, and paced his innings to a nicety. He expertly picked the bowlers to target, and bludgeoned his way to his highest IPL score. The unbeaten 68 off 35 he scored was also his first half-century of IPL 2020. The Morgan blitz took the Knight Riders to 191 for 7, a total well in excess of what they looked like getting more than halfway into the innings.
The Royals innings began at breakneck speed but their unravelling was equally swift. The first five legal balls brought 19 runs, the next 4.1 overs produced 18 for 5 – four of those wickets going to Cummins. It was only the fourth time ever that a bowler had taken four or more wickets in an IPL powerplay. In seven of their last eight games, the Knight Riders had gone wicketless in the powerplay, and as if to revert to the mean, they got five on Sunday. Morgan took the aggressive option and bowled Cummins for three overs in the powerplay, and was amply rewarded for it. Cummins shrugged off those 19 runs he conceded first up to eventually end with 4 for 34.
Archer at one end, runs at the other
The match began in familiar fashion for the Royals. Jofra Archer was quick, hostile, accurate at one end. The runs leaked from the other. Archer’s first spell read 2-0-3-1 but the Knight Riders still had 55 for 1 in the powerplay, with Shubman Gill in his new avatar as an aggressive opener leading the way. Gill carted the other bowlers around as the Knight Riders shrugged off the first-over dismissal of Nitish Rana to continue to hit out against all bowlers save Archer, with the rest offering ample waywardness in line and length.
Steven Smith also erred in giving Shreyas Gopal the fourth over, when pace might have been more suited and with the Royals having enough options. Gopal’s over went for 17 runs and the control Archer had given them first up disappeared. Later on, Smith would also call on Gopal when Russell was new to the crease – again with pace options available since the Royals had six frontline bowlers – and that over went for 21 after a middle-overs lull.
Rahul Tewatia continued to enhance his reputation as one of the stars of this tournament with a canny spell in the middle overs that dragged the Royals into the game for a while. He didn’t rip the ball a great deal, but kept it flat and on difficult-to-hit lengths. He also kept it out of the strike zone of the batsmen, denying them room to free their arms. He struck twice in the ninth over to get a fluent Gill and then the promoted Sunil Narine for a duck. Later on, he took the important wicket of Dinesh Karthik, who chipped tamely to short midwicket, finishing with 3 for 25 in his four overs, bowled on the trot. When he was done, the Knight Riders had been reined in to 100 for 5 in 13 overs after a quick start.
He had been busy at the crease since his entry, though he had to temper his aggression against good bowling by Tewatia, while also setting himself up for launching in the death overs. Still, Morgan hadn’t let a scoring opportunity go, looking to attack even through the middle overs. The re-entry of Gopal for the 14th over opened the sluice gates, as Morgan smashed two fours and two sixes. Russell then showed some of his prime hitting form, even taking Archer for a six after an edged four. Though Russell was out for an 11-ball 25, Morgan stayed on, taking down England team-mate Ben Stokes in a massive 19th over that yielded 24 runs.
Cummins runs through the top order
The first ball of the chase was picked up for six over fine leg, the second was a big wide down leg. Stokes hit an audacious ramped six off the fourth and suddenly the Royals were flying. They were brought thudding to earth rapidly though. Cummins ended his first over with Robin Uthappa flicked to deep backward square leg, and from that point on, the Knight Riders stayed on top.
Stokes was taken behind when Karthik leapt to his left to pluck the ball out of the air in one of the catches of the season, Smith was bowled off the inside edge and Riyan Parag was too late on a short ball that got big on him to glove it behind. In between, Shivam Mavi moved one off the seam to have Sanju Samson poking it behind.
Jos Buttler fought for a while, and Tewatia tried to do what he could, but 37 for 5 in five overs, the Royals needed a miracle, and that didn’t materialise.