Parag, Kuldeep and Ashwin rescue the Royals

Rajasthan Royals 144 for 8 (Parag 56*, Hazlewood 2-19, Hasaranga 2-23, Siraj 2-30) beat Royal Challengers Bangalore 115 (Sen 4-20, Ashwin 3-17, Prasidh 2-23) by 29 runs

Rajasthan Royals’ big three batters failed to fire, managing only a combined 38 off 37 balls. Their lack of batting depth was sorely tested – Trent Boult, a lifelong No. 11, walked in at No. 8 with 27 balls left in the innings. They went through a 43-ball stretch without hitting a single boundary.

But Riyan Parag, the 20-year-old whom they re-signed at this year’s auction despite his having gone through a horror 2021 season, repaid their faith with an unbeaten 31-ball 56 that dragged them to a total of 144.

It was still a small total; the lowest total defended before today in IPL 2022 was 156, by Gujarat Titans against Kolkata Knight Riders. Royals’ bowlers – who had already pulled off five successful defences in six attempts this season – didn’t just better that effort; they were in control right through, as Royal Challengers Bangalore’s chase fizzled out almost before it had begun.

Virat Kohli followed up two successive first-ball ducks with a scratchy, chancy 9 off 10 balls; Glenn Maxwell fell to a first-baller; and Dinesh Karthik was run out in tragicomic manner. There was no let-up at any point from Royals’ bowlers. All of them performed their roles perfectly on a two-paced pitch that also took turn as the match progressed, and the two big wicket-hauls in the end went to the pacy Kuldeep Sen, and the evergreen R Ashwin, who followed up a cameo at No. 3 with a three-wicket haul that took him past 150 wickets in the IPL.

Royals promote Ashwin again

Sent in, Royals lost Devdutt Padikkal in the second over of the match, and in walked Ashwin, batting at one drop for the second time this season.

Was he a pinch-hitter or – given Royals’ lack of batting depth – a pinch-blocker, sent out to ensure more valuable batters aren’t dismissed in the powerplay?

Ashwin’s intent suggested it was the former, and there was some logic to the move. While he might lack the raw power to find the boundary regularly later in the innings, he is a free-scoring timer of the ball in longer-format cricket, capable of finding the gaps while the field is up.

He did just this with four boundaries in two overs off Mohammed Siraj, before being dismissed while looking for a big hit – 17 off 9, job done.

Buttler, Samson, Hetmyer

Jos Buttler was out the very next ball, miscuing Josh Hazlewood to mid-on. After three hundreds in his first seven games of the season, a low score was due at some point.

Almost as soon as Sanju Samson walked in, Faf du Plessis brought on Wanindu Hasaranga. The legspinner had troubled Samson incessantly when a second-string India team toured Sri Lanka for a white-ball series last year. Before today, Samson had been dismissed four times by Hasaranga in all T20 cricket while scoring just eight runs in 15 balls.

Their contest threatened to veer away from script early on, as Samson punched and lofted Hasaranga for a four and a six in his first over, the sixth of Royals’ innings. Then he hit a pair of sixes off Shahbaz Ahmed’s left-arm spin, but just when he was looking ominous, Hasaranga came back for the 10th over. Samson attempted two reverse-sweeps, missed both, and was bowled on the second attempt.

Daryl Mitchell, brought into Royals’ XI as their latest middle-order batter/sixth bowler option, struggled to time the ball, and kept muscling singles to deep fielders until holing out in the 15th over for 16 off 24. Royals were in a bit of a quagmire at 99 for 5, but this was a good entry point for Shimron Hetmyer, who had until today managed a strike rate in the 170s without once being dismissed for below 25. Law of averages was bound to catch up on him, though, and he miscued a slog-sweep off a Hasaranga wrong’un and was out for 3.

Parag plays on his own pitch

From 69 for 4 at the halfway mark, Royals added a further 75 runs to their score. Of those, Parag made 55 off 28 balls, while hitting three fours and four sixes. The other end and extras contributed 20 off 32, and zero boundaries, between them.

The conditions – the ball was sticking and occasionally kicking up from the back-of-a-length area – the bowling, and Royals’ situation combined to keep Parag relatively quiet through the middle part of his innings, but he showed, either side of it, why Royals have placed so much faith in him.

First up, in the 11th over, he attacked Shahbaz fearlessly when he overpitched, showing genuine clarity of intent even though he’d only just come to the crease, hitting him for a six and a four down the ground.

Then, with only the tail for company, he went after Hazlewood and Harshal Patel in the last two overs, doing the bulk of the damage as Royals ransacked 30 off those 12 balls. There were three sixes and two fours in that time, the pick of them a front-foot loft over extra-cover off Hazlewood and a last-ball short-arm pull off Harshal.

What’s worse that a first-ball duck?

First-ball dismissals, like Kohli’s in his last two knocks, can happen to anyone any time – you get a good ball, or your first mistake ends up being your last one. You can’t read too much into them.

Kohli’s innings against Royals, however, left more room for interpretation. He was almost out for a third-ball duck, only for his uppish flick to fall short of square leg. Then he flicked Trent Boult for four, and sent two inside-edges running past his stumps. Then he edged Prasidh Krishna into his pads, and four balls later took on the hook, only to edge the ball into his helmet, from where it bounced into the hands of Parag running in from backward point.

The resigned smile we’ve seen so often in recent weeks appeared again on Kohli’s face as he trudged off, not waiting for the umpire to give him out.

Sen-sational

du Plessis hit a boundary each in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth overs, and RCB ended the powerplay going at just above a run a ball.

Sen came into the attack at this point, and with his second and third balls picked up two vital wickets, off balls banged into the short-of-good-length region. The first stopped on du Plessis, and he slapped the ball straight to extra-cover. The second gained extra bounce, and Maxwell, steered it straight to the fielder who’d just been brought in at slip. RCB were 37 for 3.

Royals complete the job

With Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal set to control the middle overs, RCB had an uphill task ahead of them, and so it proved. Just one boundary came off the first four post-powerplay overs, and Ashwin ended that mini-phase by bowling another right-hander with a carrom ball delivered from wide of the crease, Rajat Patidar his victim this time.

That brought Karthik to the crease, and a firm sweep for four off Chahal in the 13th over suggested RCB weren’t out of it just yet. But two balls later, a mix-up with Shahbaz left him mid-pitch when the ball was lobbed into Chahal’s hands. Chahal dropped the ball, but managed to drag it into the stumps and almost unintentionally break the wicket with Karthik, not spotting the fumble early enough, too slow to regain his crease.

At 72 for 6, with 73 needed off the last 44 balls, the game was almost done. RCB dragged it all the way into the final over before it ended in most fitting manner, with Parag taking his fourth catch of the innings to give Sen his fourth wicket.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

(With Inputs from ESPN)

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