Pune's great run

Steve Smith and Jesse Ryder celebrate after steering Pune Warriors to victory against Chennai Super Kings at the Subrata Roy Sahara stadium in Pune. The team has had a dream start in IPL-5.-VIVEK BENDRE

Pune Warriors made a fine impression. For a team that fared so poorly in the last edition of the IPL, three victories in four matches was a brilliant start indeed. The absence of Yuvraj Singh was a blow to Pune but the team came up with a collective show to rattle its opponents. By Vijay Lokapally.

A grand century by Rajasthan Royals opener Ajinkya Rahane, two last over finishes, a dispute concerning change of pitch and two leading cricketers involved in a spat with the umpires marked the second week of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Even though the television ratings took a plunge, the considerable presence of spectators, at some of the venues, was encouraging for the organisers.

Rahane's century was in keeping with his dazzling form. His 98 against Kings XI Punjab in the first week was a pleasant precursor. There was a clinical method to Rahane's decimation of the Royal Challengers Bangalore attack. There was nothing crude in his batting, as cricketing shots highlighted his awesome potential. Rated as a fine product of the Bombay stable of batting, Rahane made a strong case for himself with his performance at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. His unbeaten 103 off 60 balls (12 fours and five sixes) created the base for Rajasthan which took the top slot in the points table. He slaughtered S. Aravind for six fours in an over in this match.

Rohit Sharma, Sunil Narine, Kieron Pollard and Albie Morkel played dominating roles in winning matches for their teams. The competition picked up as the teams read each other better and the bowlers came to the fore in most matches. Spinners excelled as the teams exploited the slow nature of pitches.

Chennai Super Kings' sensational win against Royal Challengers Bangalore stood out for the manner in which it was crafted. Albie Morkel plundered 28 runs off six balls in the 19th over by Virat Kohli. It was just the kind of batting that makes this format so exciting even for fans who follow the game casually.

Needing 43 of 12 balls, Chennai Super Kings swept RCB off its feet as Morkel swung the bat and Kohli watched in desperation. It was a rare situation for Kohli. He was at the receiving end and in fact cost the team the match. Morkel's three sixes and two fours buried RCB and Dwayne Bravo chipped in by slamming R. Vinay Kumar in the last over. Earlier, RCB's batting collapse, 11 runs off the last 10 balls, did harm the team.

Pune Warriors made a fine impression. For a team that fared so poorly in the last edition of the IPL, three victories in four matches was a brilliant start indeed. The absence of Yuvraj Singh was a blow to Pune but the team came up with a collective show to rattle its opponents.

The fantastic chase by Pune to frustrate Chennai, reflected on the team's preparations. Jesse Ryder and Steve Smith innovated and justified the trust the team management had in them. Smith kept his cool in the final over even as Ryder hung around to ensure a winning finish.

Pune, however, suffered a setback when Marlon Samuels was reported for bowling certain deliveries that did not qualify as legal. The West Indian all-rounder was reported by on-field umpires Aleem Dar and Bruce Oxenford and third umpire Vineet Kulkarni. The IPL rules allow Samuels to continue playing but if he was to be reported the second time, he would not be allowed to bowl again in this edition.

A minor controversy involved the Rajasthan Royals wicketkeeper Shreevats Goswami, who alleged that the pitch for the match against Mumbai Indians was switched. Rajasthan skipper Rahul Dravid had opted to field first keeping the surface he had in mind. Even as Rajasthan Royals grumbled the IPL authorities insisted the franchise had no say in deciding the pitch. The curator has the sole authority to select the pitch.

Rajasthan Royals' Ajinkya Rahane during his masterly century against Royal Challengers Bangalore.-PTI

One of the most exciting results involved Rohit Sharma, who belted the last ball of the match to craft a win for Mumbai Indians against Deccan Chargers. The target was just 140 but Deccan Chargers made a fight of it. With 18 runs needed off the final over, Deccan Chargers looked best placed to clinch the contest but it erred in the choice of Daniel Christian as the bowler. He ended up bowling two full tosses and Rohit was too happy to accept such generous offerings.

This match was not without its share of controversy. Chargers' coach Darren Lehmann hit out at Mumbai Indians' behaviour and termed it “disgraceful.” Mumbai skipper Harbhajan Singh and bowler Munaf Patel showed dissent even as the umpires, Anil Chowdhury and Johan Cloete, discussed their claims that K. Sangakkara was bowled off Patel. The public spat involving the players and the umpires held up play for some time, before Sangakkara was declared out.

To L Balaji went the credit of bowling Kolkata Knight Riders to its first victory in this edition of the IPL when Royal Challengers Bangalore was beaten at home. Along with Brett Lee and Jacques Kallis, the Tamil Nadu seamer struck crucial blows to fashion KKR's victory. Kallis accounted for Chris Gayle and Cheteshwar Pujara and it was just the foundation for Balaji to build his attack. By claiming Kohli, AB de Villiers and Mayank Agarwal, the crafty Balaji swung the match KKR's way.

KKR, however, bungled at home against Kings XI Punjab. It was a shocking defeat considering the soft target that Punjab had posted. The task was 135 to win but KKR messed it up by finishing two runs short with three wickets in hand. Mandeep Singh made some valuable runs for Punjab even as David Hussey made his presence felt. Off-spinner Sunil Narine was the pick of the players. The KKR batting collapse put to waste the brilliant five for 19 spell by the Trinidad off-spinner. “I basically look to contain,” said Narine. A pity his batsmen failed to back his effort.

KKR skipper Gautam Gambhir was understandably livid when he said, “We left it till the end. You have to play intelligent cricket. We should have finished it when we needed 13 (runs) off 12 (balls) and played better as a batting unit.”

Delhi Daredevils stayed on course with an inspiring victory against Chennai Super Kings. Brilliant fielding was the key as Delhi ran out three batsmen. Then came the spectacular catch by wicketkeeper Naman Ojha to pack off Ravindra Jadeja. This was the finest moment of the match. A target of 111 was hardly going to trouble and the trio of Virender Sehwag, Kevin Pietersen and Mahela Jayawardene ensured a smooth finish for Delhi in front of a delighted home audience.

The poor scheduling of matches was a sore point. Of the five matches it played, Pune Warriors had Punjab as opponent in two. Pune played Punjab at home on April 8 and the two met again four days later at Mohali. KKR and Rajasthan figured in five matches each.

* * * Star performers

Rohit Sharma: Hugely talented but also an under-achiever. This gifted Mumbai batsman has amazing time to play his shots. Unflinching and always keen to dominate, this attractive stroke-player was in his elements at the Visakhapatnam Stadium. The target was only 139 but Rohit (73 not out) carried the responsibility on his shoulders. A middle order collapse gave Deccan Chargers hopes of a win but Rohit never eased his grip on the proceedings. “The idea was to stay calm. We needed 19 runs in the last over. I knew we could do it,” said Rohit, who finished with a six off the last ball.

Sunil Narine: Slow bowlers have excelled in this edition of the IPL and this affable West Indian was no exception. Three years ago, this off-spinner had come for the Champions League. He was keeping alive the Trinidadian tradition of slow bowlers even though he had to undergo some corrective measures in his action. His five-wicket spell against Kings XI Punjab should boost his confidence. His first two matches had fetched him just a wicket but he was in splendid rhythm and snared the likes of Adam Gilchrist and Shaun Marsh during his spell.

Kieron Pollard: He has a way. And he showed it amply at the Wankhede Stadium. His 64 and four for 44 against Rajasthan Royals was a brilliant individual show. Mumbai Indians had to thank this burly West Indian for the victory even as Owais Shah threatened to take it away. In fact, Shah had won the battle with Pollard but failed to finish. Pollard loves a competition and he left a mark on the match with his all-round abilities. His knock had four sixes and six fours to confirm his talent to hit hard and then his skills with the ball ensured he was the star of the match.

Albie Morkel: When he arrived at the crease, Chennai Super Kings had little hopes. The team needed 43 off 12 balls. Morkel smashed Virat Kohli for 28 runs leaving the stage for Dwayne Bravo to finish. It was clean hitting and Kohli could do nothing. He watched the ball sail all over as Morkel tore into him. “I think it was very good wicket, and we had to believe in ourselves that if we play well, we will get close. I think we were bit behind the required rate; but as they say, a T20 game is not over till it's over.” Morkel was right and Bangalore learnt it the hard way.