At the player auction in January, Rajasthan Royals spent INR 7.2 crore (USD 1.1 million approx) on Jofra Archer and INR 6.2 crore (USD 9,70,000 approx.) on K Gowtham. That's a lot of cash to splash on two uncapped players. Given his IPL exploits, the bidding war for Archer wasn't a surprise; Gowtham, a solid, late-blooming offspinning allrounder at first-class level, wasn't as much of a known quantity in T20 cricket.
On Sunday both announced themselves in the IPL with performances that swung an exceedingly tight game. First up, Archer, returning from a side strain and making his IPL debut, bowled with effortless pace and grabbed 3 for 22, all three of his wickets coming in a 19th over that sucked all momentum out of Mumbai Indians' innings and helped restrict them to 167. Then Gowtham, coming in at No. 8 with Royals needing 43 off 17 balls, clattered an unbeaten 11-ball 33 to win it with two balls to spare.
For the fourth time in five games this season, Mumbai suffered a final-over loss. The seeds of the defeat, however, were sown much earlier, in the last five overs of their own innings, in which they only managed 32 for 5 after a second-wicket stand of 129 between Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan, off only 82 balls, had set them up for a total of 180 at least.
Right decision, wrong result?
In the 21st match of this IPL season, Rohit Sharma became only the second captain to choose to bat first. He felt the large boundaries at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium could aid the team defending a total. Though he ended up on the losing side, the events of the match showed there was logic behind his decision. There were 29 twos and only ten sixes in the match, and Mumbai hit seven of those sixes. A team being so far ahead on the six count generally doesn't lose; Mumbai, however, didn't make that advantage count.
Six of Mumbai's seven sixes came during the Suryakumar-Kishan stand, which showcased some of the cleanest ball-striking you can see from two uncapped players. Suryakumar's wristwork was a delight to watch, the highlight of his innings a flicked six off Dhawal Kulkarni. In the same over, the fifth of Mumbai's innings, Kishan showed off the full arc of his bat-swing, high backlift flowing into a full follow-through, to launch the ball high over wide long-on.
When their partnership came to an end in the 15th over, Mumbai were perfectly placed for an end-overs blast, with Rohit, Kieron Pollard and the Pandya brothers to follow.
As it happened, that fearsome middle order managed a combined 32 off 29 balls. Royals' other bowlers played some part, varying their pace and forcing the batsmen to try and muscle the ball to the long boundaries, and there was one needless run-out, which took out Rohit Sharma, but the chief architect of Mumbai's slide was Archer.
He showed no aftereffects of his side strain, pushing the speedgun needle towards the 150kph mark on multiple occasions, giving his bowling attack a dimension it had sorely missed in previous games. Two of his wickets came via the fast and full route, Hardik Pandya and Mitchell McClenaghan bowled off successive balls, and the other by means of a change-up, in this case a knuckleball that Krunal Pandya miscued to long-on.
A neck-and-neck fight
There was only one six in the first 17.4 overs of Royals' chase, this despite Ben Stokes, one of the cleanest strikers around, and Sanju Samson, a man who had struck 10 sixes in an innings just over a week ago, batting through a significant chunk of that time. This was down to some good bowling from Mumbai, and also the sheer size difference between the outfields of Jaipur and Bengaluru. Samson had to do a lot of running this time, only hitting four fours in his 39-ball 52.
The required rate inched slowly upwards, and when Samson holed out off a Jasprit Bumrah slower ball in the 17th over, Mumbai were perhaps favourites for the first time since the three-quarters mark of their innings. Bumrah produced a fast nip-backer to bowl Jos Buttler off the next ball, and Royals were 125 for 5, needing 43 from 21 balls. Three successive dots from Bumrah to Archer made it 43 off 18.
Gowtham seals the deal
Heinrich Klaasen fell off the first ball of the 18th over, to Mustafizur Rahman, bringing Gowtham to the crease. The third ball he faced was a length ball, on middle stump or thereabouts, and he was perfectly placed, with front leg out of the way, to heave it over long-on. Going hard at the next one, wide of his off stump, he picked up an edged four, and suddenly the equation looked doable again.
It still needed some runs from the other end and a little more luck, and both arrived in the next over. Bumrah's control deserted him, and Archer and Gowtham each picked up slapped fours off wide long-hops. Then Gowtham smeared one past square leg off the inside edge to pick up four more. Eighteen came off the over, leaving only 10 to get off the last six balls.
So far this had been an innings of muscle and good fortune, but the second ball of the final over, after Archer had holed out and the batsmen had crossed, showed Gowtham had more in his locker. Deft hands, quick feet, and presence of mind, to be precise, and a wide yorker from Hardik Pandya went flying hard and flat over short third man. That left only six to get, and Gowtham did it with one shot, getting a short ball from Pandya that he carted a long way beyond midwicket.