Smith celebrates return to captaincy by keeping Royals alive
Steve Smith sealed RR's chase to keep the team alive. (BCCI Image)

A few hours after he was named the new skipper of Rajasthan Royals, Steve Smith celebrated his return to captaincy in style, striking a half-century and shepherding his team to a five-wicket win over Mumbai Indians on Saturday. With the win, Royals completed a double over the three-time winners following their four-wicket win at the Wankhede last Saturday.

Aiding Smith was young Riyan Parag, who fell seven short of becoming IPL’s youngest-ever half-centurion. Smith and Parag forged a 70-run partnership and their alliance played a big role in Royals chasing down MI’s total of 161, the fulcrum of which revolved around Quinton de Kock’s third half-century of the season.

There were questions surrounding the Jaipur pitch, throwing out impressions of being slow and slightly sluggish – at least when MI were batting. But batting second, the Royals thwarted away the misconceptions. The opening combination of Ajinkya Rahane and Sanju Samson creamed 39 inside four overs with both batsmen playing an array of strokes to throw the MI attack off guard early on. Misfields and some direction-less bowling from Hardik and Krunal Pandya, resulted in both bowlers conceding 55 combined runs in six overs.

Rahane had to endure another low score as MI broke through. But Samson and Smith were on the money and took the MI bowlers on through a little period of onslaught. Samson batted in his flambouyant attacking manner to hit six boundaries and a maximum. Smith was equally effective, but with an asking rate under control, scored at a strike-rate of over 100.

With Samson and Smith having put on 37 runs for the second wicket, legspinner Rahul Chahar struck twice in quick succession to bring MI back into the game. He had Samson miscue to Kieron Pollard at long-on and snared Ben Stokes two balls later to deal the allrounder a duck. With MI sensing an opening, Parag and Smith batted with defiance and slowly pushed the game out of reach. Smith brought up his second half-century of the season off 40 balls and Rajasthan seemed to be in cruise control.

MI struck back with the run out of Parag and Bumrah getting Ashton Turner out LBW for his second straight golden duck, but Smith and Stuart Binny had little trouble in taking the Royals over the line.

Earlier, De Kock and Suryakumar Yadav were involved in an inspiring partnership but Rajasthan pulled things back remarkably in the end to restrict MI to inside 170. After providing useful starts in the previous three games in a row, the opening pair of de Kock and captain Rohit Sharma did not last long with Shreyas Gopal striking to have the MI skipper out caught and bowled cheaply. But de Kock continued his fine form en route to scoring his ninth IPL fifty.

After three tight overs from the Royals up front, the South Africa wicketkeeper batsman took Dhawal Kulkarni on and smacked him for 19 with the help of three boundaries and a six. Dropped on 1 by Jofra Archer, with a four towards a vacant fine leg, de Kock brought up his half-century.

Yadav began to grow in confidence with de Kock and the two batsmen added 97 runs for the second wicket with the left-hander doing the bulk of the damage and Yadav playing second fiddle. After scoring at a strike rate of just over 100 with a boundary and six each, Binny struck to remove Yadav and break the partnership.

Four balls later, Rajasthan dealt MI a major blow with the wicket of de Kock with Gopal getting the batsman and finishing with yet another impressive spell of 2 for 21. Rajasthan, sensing an opening, capitalised on the opportunity. Jaydev Unadkat came back strongly in his final spell and cleaned up Pollard after the West Indian had struck a six over long-on.

Rajasthan were let down by some poor catching. Archer dropped not one, not two, but three catches in total. After de Kock’s reprieve, he out down Hardik twice in the death – on 2 and 14 – as Mumbai looked in search of some quick runs. But Archer made amends with the ball, getting Pandya out LBW. However, Ben Cutting finished the innings with a six off the final delivery getting Mumbai to a competitive total.

Brief Scores: Rajasthan Royals 162 for 5 (Steve Smith 59*, Riyan Parag 43; Rahul Chahar 3 for 29) beat Mumbai Indians 161 for 5 (Quinton de Kock 65, Suryakumar Yadav 34; Shreyas Gopal 2 for 21) by five wickets.