Australian all-rounder James Faulkner conjured up a crucial 46-run knock and then took three wickets as Rajasthan Royals pipped Kings XI Punjab by 26 runs in their Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket match, here on Friday.
Royals managed to get on board a respectable 162 for seven, thanks to Faulkner's fearless batting, after being invited to bat on a pitch which had a lot of grass.
Faulkner's valuable knock, in which he punished the rival bowlers with two fours and three sixes, came when Royals were gasping at 75 for five.
His 51-run stand with debutant Deepak Hooda (30) was also crucial in their recovery apart from skipper Steven Smith's 33-run knock from 23 balls.
Pacers Mitchell Johnson (2/34) and Anureet Singh (3/23) shared five wickets between them for Punjab.
Royals bowlers kept it tight from the beginning, not giving Punjab batsmen runs freely and took wickets at regular intervals. Their fielding was outstanding and played a significant role in their win as they pulled off two stunning catches and an equal number of run outs.
Faulkner (3/26) accounted for dangerous Glenn Maxwell along with rival skipper George Bailey in his three-wicket haul while Tim Southee (2/36) took two wickets as Punjab finished at 136 for eight.
The start to Punjab's chase was horrible as Virender Sehwag was out for a golden duck and Wriddhiman Saha (7) was run out in utter confusion with Murali Vijay.
Maxwell was victim of a sensational catch by Southee off Faulkner as Punjab lost quick wickets, thanks to superb fielding effort by the Royals players.
Run-rate was not a problem for Punjab, though, as they managed 51 runs in six power-play overs.
Opener Murali Vijay was in exquisite touch as his well-timed boundaries were a treat to watch. However he too was run out. The run-rate dipped as Royals tightened their grip over the proceedings.
Punjab needed 71 runs from seven overs and Dhawal Kulkarni inflicted a big blow by removing dangerous David Miller (23), who had just hit a gigantic six off Southee.
Punjab batsmen struggled to maintain required run-rate, leaving a lot of work for skipper Bailey to do. He had no choice but to go after the bowlers.
His one such attempted big shot was plucked by an airborne Southee but since the Kiwi feared crossing the boundary ropes with ball in his hand, he threw it back and Karun Nair showed immense presence of mind to catch it.
Earlier, seeing a 'green' pitch, bowling first was a difficult temptation to resist and Kings XI Punjab skipper George Bailey made the easy choice.
The going was tough and Rajasthan did not have wait to realise that as their premier batsman Ajinkya Rahane back in the dugout without bothering the scorer.
Such was assistance from the pitch that it was hard to negotiate the domestic pair of Sandeep Sharma and Anureet Singh, who relished bowling on a juicy pitch.
Interestingly, Bailey held back his fastest bowler, fellow Australian Mitchell Johnson.
After Anureet scalped Rahane, Sandeep trapped the other opener Sanju Samson (5). Royals were reeling at 14 for 2.
Inspiring Australian Steven Smith though looked in glorious touch as he continued his rich form of World Cup. His successive boundaries off spinner Axar Patel released some pressure and it seemed to have rubbed on Karun Nair too as he hit the left-armer for a six in the same over.
However, the spinner took the revenge in the very next ball, finding the middle stump of Nair (8).
Johnson was introduced as late as in the ninth over and the left-armer straightaway made an impression with some unplayable deliveries.
Smith went about his business calmly from one end before his top edge of Johnson flew to Karanveer Singh at third man. The Australian quick returned and sent back Stuart Binny, who failed to negotiate the ferocious pace and was caught behind.
At 75 for five, Royals' innings was in disarray and in need of a saviour, who came in form of Faulkner. The burly Australian batted fearlessly. His strokes were laced with power and precision as he took his side to a fighting total.
He did not even spare the best rival bowler, creaming off 20 runs from Johnson's over.