PUNE (TIP): When Pune Warriors stumbled to 99 for 9 after choosing to bat against Kings XI Punjab and crashed to their 11th successive defeat, their captain Angelo Mathews said his batsmen needed to sort their “intent and attitude” towards the first six overs. Warriors had made 24 for 2 in the first six overs that evening. Four days later, Robin Uthappa and Aaron Finch blasted them to 64 for 1 in the same period, and Warriors made short work of the target of 146 set by Rajasthan Royals to break the longest losing streak in the IPL.
Finch was playing only because Marlon Samuels was injured, and his arrival heralded a complete change in the way Warriors approached the Powerplay. Instead of starting overcautious and getting tied down, they started aggressively and never looked back on a slowish pitch. Royals captain Rahul Dravid gambled with India Under-19 left-arm spinner Harmeet Singh for a couple of overs at the start, ahead of James Faulkner, Kevon Cooper and Siddharth Trivedi. Harmeet was making his Twenty20 debut, and while his first over went for just six, the next one was taken for 17.
There was no gamble with giving Sreesanth two overs from the other end. And while the first went for just seven, the second was shredded for 21. Uthappa did most of that damage, pulling successive long-hops from Harmeet for six and also lifting Sreesanth over long-on and deep square leg for two more sixes.
Warriors catapulted to 51 for 0 in four overs, the frenetic start all but ending Royals’ hopes. Though Uthappa went for 32 off 16 deliveries to a brilliant one-handed take by Dravid in an opening partnership of 58 in 4.5 overs, Finch kept going and going. He’d already lofted Harmeet and Sreesanth for a couple of straight sixes and went on punishing slight width either side of the wicket, swinging Cooper over deep square leg to reach his fifty off 36 balls. Yuvraj Singh returned after missing the previous game with an injury to finish the chase in the 19th over with a huge six over deep midwicket off Sreesanth. It wasn’t that Royals had ended short of expectations in setting the target. Rahane said during the innings break they had aimed for anything between 140 and 150.
Kusal Perera had gone first ball of the match to a Bhuvneshwar Kumar inswinger, but Dravid and Rahane had set the platform with a second-wicket stand of 81 off 67. Dravid was in superb touch on his way to 54 off 48, timing several pleasing drives through the off side. Rahane rotated the strike well, but both batsmen fell to sharp catches off the spinners as Royals lost their way in the middle of the innings. Rahul Sharma was especially difficult to get away with his full and quick legbreaks. Royals did scrap some runs towards the end, but the way Uthappa and Finch batted, Warriors’ losing streak had no chance of getting extended.