Ben Stokes slams ton to boost RPS’ playoff hopes

Ben Stokes slammed his first Indian Premier League century, scoring an unbeaten 103 off 63, to lead Rising Pune Supergiant to a come-from-behind five-wicket win over Gujarat Lions on Monday (May 1). Set to chase 162, the allrounder stayed unbeaten to push RPS over the line and boosted their chances of making it to the play-offs.

RPS, with their sixth win, took a four-point lead over Kings XI Punjab, who hold the fifth spot.

Was it a comfortable chase?

Not by a long stretch. Pradeep Sangwan, playing his first game of the IPL 2017, gave Lions a solid start in the defence by dismissing Ajinkya Rahane (0) and Steve Smith (4) in the very first over of the chase. After posting a par score, the onus was on the depleted line-up to defend the total considering Andrew Tye was ruled out after dislocating a shoulder.

Things went from bad to worse as Basil Thampi trapped Manoj Tiwary in front in the second over to stun the hosts. Rahul Tripathi threw away his wicket when he was run out after calling Stokes for the second run in the sixth over.

How did RPS get out of that mess?

At 42 for 4, RPS needed someone to support Stokes. There couldn’t have been a better candidate than Dhoni with all his experience and finishing capabilities. The duo first looked to lay a solid platform and then launched a well-timed assault to polish off the chase.

They first scored 48 in 8.3 overs to bring the equation down to 72 off the last six overs. The 15th over was smashed for 12 runs with Dhoni launching a six on the very first delivery before Stokes took on Dwayne Smith and collected 16 off the 16th over. And two good overs meant the equation came down to 44 off the last four overs.

However, Lions found a way to break the Dhoni-Stokes collaboration that fetched RPS 76 crucial runs. Trying to take on Thampi, Dhoni slapped a slower delivery straight and flat to Brendon McCullum at long-off.

The onus then was on Stokes to take the team over the line as Dhoni – the finisher supreme – departed for a 33-ball 26.

Who gave the final touches to the chase?

Stokes continued with his attacking approach and brought the equation down to 25 off the last 12 balls. Thampi, asked to bowl the penultimate over, bowled a low full toss on the first delivery and was launched for a six by Stokes. The fifth ball of the over was then again smashed over long off to leave RPS needing just eight in the last over.

Stokes slapped the first ball of the last over wide of long-off to complete his century. With one needed off the last two deliveries, Daniel Christian completed the formality with a maximum and completed a thrilling win.

Just how good is Imran Tahir?

Lions were cruising at one stage despite losing Ishan Kishan (31) and Suresh Raina (8) because of Brendon McCullum’s attacking approach. However, the fact that Supergiant were able to pull things back was because Tahir found a way to dismantle the pillars of the Lions middle-order. Aaron Finch (13) and Dwayne Smith were dismissed off consecutive deliveries as the visitors suddenly found themselves struggling at 94 for 4.

To add to that, it was Tahir who gave them the first breakthrough when he dismissed Kishan on the last ball of the powerplay after Lions had raced to 55 for no loss.

Lions, to some extent, failed to recover from the Tahir twin blows and despite Dinesh Karthik scoring 29 in the last half of the first innings, they were able to post only a par score.

Where do teams go from here?

Supergiant have three tough away games ahead of them as they look to make it to play-offs. Their next fixture is against Kolkata Knight Riders on May 3 and then against Sunrisers Hyderabad on May 6. While Kolkata have lost just one home game this season, SRH are unbeaten at home. RPS’ last league game is against Kings XI Punjab, at home, on May 14.

Lions have four league games remaining – two away games in Delhi and Mohali on May 4 and 7 respectively while they play their last two league fixtures in their second adopted home – in Kanpur – against Delhi Daredevils and SRH.

Brief scores: Gujarat Lions 161 in 19.5 overs (Brendon McCullum 45: Imran Tahir 3-27) lost to Rising Pune Supergiant 167/5 in 19.5 overs (Ben Stokes 103*; Basil Thampi 2-35) by five wickets.

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