The Royals, led by Rahul Dravid in their first ever Champions League campaign, have been a revelation. It was perhaps destiny after the messy spot fixing saga that got 4 of their primary players suspended and banned, including Sreesanth. The team that suffered the most in the latter stages of the IPL, yet remained steady under a strong leader, is now the team that has won all 4 of its league games.
The Royals have topped their group and have locked up their semifinal match at Home- a virtual fortress for the team created by Warne.
Their path to the semi-finals has been surprisingly straightforward and ruthless, thanks to Dravid’s ability to clearly assign every player a specific task:
v/s Mumbai Indians
Dravid stuck to his favorite win the toss and field strategy, preferring to chase down any score on their home ground. Mumbai Indians came in as Champions of IPL 2013, but a bit unstable at the top because of Tendulkar’s poor form. They struggled to 142 on the Jaipur pitch, by no means a winning total- thanks to cameos by Rohit and Pollard. They needed a special bowling performance by Johnson, but the calm young hands of Rahane and Samson pulled them through without any fuss- winning easily by 7 wickets with a Binny turbo blast at the end. Mumbai will be the first to admit that they have won their 2 major trophies only when Tendulkar was benched. Rajasthan begin with a thumping win.
Dravid lost the toss for a change, and was put in to bat at home. This time, he fired steadily with the bat before handing it over to the reliable trip of Watson, Binny and Hodge towards the end as they rallied to score 183. A fighting total, thanks to the legendary finishing skills of 38 year old Brad Hodge, their most underrated weapon. The Lions fell terribly short, but it was 42 year old leg spinner (and coach, no first class cricket ever) Pravin Thambe that shot into the limelight. A fairtytale story for the veteran as he picked up 4 wickets with his tight tweakers. Rajasthan top the group with 2 wins out of 2.
v/s Perth Scorchers
An Australian T20 team usually means trouble, but in 2013, the Aussies have failed to rise upto any occasion. The Scorchers were dismal at Jaipur, managing only 120 in their 20 overs, with the slow medium pace of Cooper and the legspin of Tamble again playing wrecker in chief. Dravid failed at the top again, no doubt feeling his age, but instilled enough confidence in Rahane and 19 year old Samson, who finished things off with a silken partnership of 120, possibly the best batting display in CLT20 2013. The Royals win by 9 wickets, qualifying for the semi finals. Can it be a perfect 4?
v/s Otago Volts
The Royals faced the 16 match-unbeaten Volts, who have taken the CL by storm this year with their big hearted performances. They were unbeaten through their qualifiers, and needed to win this to be assured top spot in the group and a semifinal at Jaipur. But for once, they failed to turn the screws on, letting Hodge finish the match with a violent 51 off 23 balls after the Royals were in trouble chasing a paltry 140. This meant the Volts have to wait on the Mumbai Indians result for their own fate, but the Royals become the first team this year to go through with a perfect record. Dravid scored his second duck of the tournament, but knows that his middle order is perhaps the strongest and most balanced in T20 cricket right now. His decision to keep Menaria away from the bat proved crucial, with Hodge providing invaluable experience after twin failures of Samson and Watson.