When Ben Stokes is around, a special knock is never far away. The England all-rounder came up with a stunning innings (107 not out, 60b, 14x4, 3x6) at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, powering Rajasthan Royals to an eight-wicket victory over table-topper Mumbai Indians.
Such was Stokes' dominance that Rajasthan crossed the finish line with eight balls to spare, chasing a daunting 195. The result helped Royals stay in the hunt for the playoffs and also eliminated Chennai Super Kings (CSK) from the competition.
Watching the recently converted opener complete his second IPL hundred with a huge six over mid-wicket off James Pattinson, and hit the winning boundary off the next ball, from the other end was Sanju Samson (54 not out, 31b, 4x4, 3x6).
The duo added 152 for the unfinished third wicket. Samson had joined Stokes in the fifth over after captain Steve Smith had played on to Pattinson. The Australian had accounted for Robin Uthappa earlier. The Mumbai fielders were sent on a leather hunt during the Stokes-Samson show, the two showing how to chase a stiff target without taking risks.
Stokes and Samson played some lovely shots and also ran exceptionally well between the wickets, keeping the asking rate in control.
Stokes had been criticised for not scoring briskly enough at the top of the order, while Sanju had been guilty of giving it away after good starts. On this night, it turned out to be a different script for both.
Hardik on the rampage
Earlier, a savage 60 not out off just 21 balls from Hardik Pandya (2x4, 7x6) gave a strong finish to the Mumbai innings, which had lost some momentum in the middle.
Off the last four overs, Kieron Pollard's men plundered 74 runs. The dramatic transformation began when Saurabh Tiwary (34, 25b, 4x4, 1x6) took 17 off Jofra Archer in the 17th over.
The England quick responded in characteristic fashion, dismissing Tiwary and conceding only three runs in his next over.
However, at the other end, Ankit Rajpoot and Kartik Tyagi were smashed all over the park by Hardik in a splendid exhibition of power-hitting. The two went for 27 each as Hardik took Mumbai to a formidable total.
It certainly must have been more than what the team would have hoped for when it lost its second wicket. Ishan Kishan (37, 36b, 4x4, 1x6), who looked in fine nick again, fell to a brilliant one-handed catch by Archer on the third man boundary, the Royals speedster leaping in the air and plucking the ball out of thin air.
Ishan, opening again in the absence of Rohit Sharma, had added 83 for the second wicket with Suryakumar Yadav (40, 26b, 4x4, 1x6), who became the first of leg-spinner Shreyas Gopal's two dismissals, the other being Pollard who was bowled by a beauty.
Hardik's blitz then seemed to have swung the contest Mumbai's way, but Stokes and Samson made it a night to believe for the Royals.
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