Aaron Finch’s 53-ball innings of 64 was enough to steer the Pune Warriors to a comfortable seven-wicket win with eight balls to spare over the Rajasthan Royals in their IPL clash at the Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium in Pune on Thursday.
After Rahul Dravid (54) had guided the visitors to a total of 145 for five in their innings, Finch was imperious as he led his team’s reply with six fours and three sixes.
The Australian received good support from fellow opener Robin Uthappa, whose 32 came from just 16 deliveries, while Yuvraj Singh guided his team home with an undefeated 28.
The Royals’ bowlers were ineffective in their defence of a modest target, and only James Faulkner (4-0-17-2) could hold his head high.
The win for the Pune outfit is their first of this year’s IPL, and their first in front of their home fans in the last seven attempts. Dravid’s men, meanwhile, suffered their first defeat of the competition and remain on four points.
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After having earlier won the toss and elected to bat first, the men from Rajasthan made the worst possible start as opener Kusal Perera was trapped in front by Bhuvneshwar Kumar (4-0-41-1) with the very first ball of the match.
It brought the experienced Dravid to the crease, and the Royals skipper thwarted the early pressure as he struck five boundaries off the following four overs.
Ajinkya Rahane (30), who had been more sedate, took the score past the 50 mark in the eighth over, but it was Dravid who stayed on top of the bowlers as he stroked a further three boundaries in the space of two overs.
Rahul Sharma (4-0-16-2) broke the 81-run partnership in the 12th over, as Angelo Mathews snared a fine catch from the bat of Rahane, and when Stuart Binny (1) holed out in the following over from Yuvraj (4-0-27-2), the visitors had been pegged back to 85 for three.
Dravid’s impressive hand came to an end in the 15th over, and when new-man Dishant Yagnik’s (12) mistimed scoop shot found the third-man fielder an over later, the hosts were on top of their opponents with the score at 106 for five.
Some late-innings impetus was badly needed, and the Australian duo of Brad Hodge (22 not out) and Faulkner (19 not out) delivered. The latter struck a lusty maximum over long-on in a 14-run 18th over, and the pair shared a trifecta of boundaries in the final over to give their team’s total some respectability.
However, the Warriors’ reply was emphatic from the outset. Uthappa’s two boundaries in the third over were complemented by a big six over long-on from Finch, and the following over the Indian was simply unstoppable as he smashed Sreesanth (2.4-0-38-0) for two sixes and a four to catapult the score to 51 without loss.
Faulkner was the man to administer the breakthrough in the fifth over, as Dravid took a sensational one-handed catch at mid-wicket to get rid of Uthappa.
The dismissal did little to hamper the men from Pune’s progress though, as Finch adopted the mantle of aggression with distinction. The young Australian sent a Kevon Cooper (4-0-26-0) full toss over square leg for six in the 11th over to bring up his 11th Twenty 20 half-century, and when his partner Ross Taylor (17) gave Harmeet Singh (4-0-34-1) the same treatment two balls into the following over, the Warriors were in cruise control at 102 for one.
Singh had his revenge at the end of the 12th over as Taylor’s slog-sweep went down the throat of deep mid-wicket, and it marked a slight dip in momentum for the hosts. However, needing less than a run-a-ball victory, the home fans had little to fear, and a six from Yuvraj in the 16th over meant the Warriors required just 22 from 28 balls.
Finch lost his middle stump at the end of the 17th, but it wasn’t enough to avoid the inevitable for the Royals, and Yuvraj closed out the game with a massive six over mid-wicket to end an 11-match losing streak for his team.
PUNE WARRIORS: RV Uthappa (wk), AJ Finch, Yuvraj Singh, TL Suman, LRPL Taylor, AM Nayar, AD Mathews (capt), MR Marsh, B Kumar, R Sharma, AB Dinda
RAJASTHAN ROYALS: AM Rahane, R Dravid (capt), STR Binny, BJ Hodge, K Cooper, DH Yagnik (wk), MDKJ Perera, S Sreesanth, JP Faulkner, Harmeet Singh, SK Trivedi