Rajasthan Royals needed to succeed in their final two matches to have a chance of qualifying. They would have expected to win the first of those: against Deccan Chargers who had been victorious in only two matches of 14 this season, and only won once in 18 matches at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad. Instead, they were knocked out of the playoff race by a stifling spell of legspin bowling from Amit Mishra which sucked the momentum out of Royals' innings, tying them to their lowest total of the season.
After Royals chose to bat, Chargers were their usual woeful self in the Powerplay overs, putting down three catches to reprieve each of Royals' top three. Royals' highest run-scorer this season, Ajinkya Rahane, was dropped in the first over by wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel, but Chargers weren't made to pay as Dale Steyn had Rahane edging to slip in the next over.
Royals have won the three games Shane Watson has fired in this season, and lost the three he failed in, highlighting how important he has become to the side's fortunes since his arrival from the West Indies. Watson, too, was given a life in the fifth over, as Shikhar Dhawan couldn't latch on to a diving effort at midwicket. On the very next delivery, Ashish Reddy let a drive from Rahul Dravid through his fingers at mid-on, conceding a boundary. The over ended with Watson blasting a straight six and Chargers demoralised.
Mishra lifted them with his first ball. It drifted in and spun away and Watson ended up playing inside the line to be bowled. The biggest wicket had been taken, and in Mishra's next over, he got another breakthrough as a quicker googly left Stuart Binny bowled and clueless. He continued to get plenty of spin through his spell, mixing in googlies with his legspinners and bowling the odd delivery from wide of the stumps to change the angle.
Even Chargers' fielding lifted after Mishra's intervention, with both the catching and ground fielding improving. Dravid's fight came to an end in the 12th over as he chopped a wide delivery to little-known Queensland batsman Chris Lynn, who nearly shelled it before grabbing it on his second effort.
The acceleration for Royals now had to come from Owais Shah, playing in place of the injured Brad Hodge. He wasn't at his most fluent today though, struggling against the accuracy of Chargers' bowling. It wasn't just that Steyn was proving unhittable, even the Indian contingent of Gony and Veer Pratap Singh kept the batsmen mostly down to singles.
Only 65 runs came in the final ten overs, which meant Chargers were in with a chance of ending Royals' chances and also their horror run at home. Shikhar Dhawan continued to be one of the bright spots of Chargers' campaign, with only Chris Gayle scoring more than him this season. He and 21-year-old Akshat Reddy added 60 in seven overs to put Chargers on course.
Midway through the innings Chargers were so relaxed that their coach Darren Lehmann and stand-in captain Cameron White were exchanging a joke in the dug-out. It wasn't a cruise to victory though as Reddy and White were dismissed in the space of seven deliveries, after which the boundaries proved elusive. Siddharth Trivedi choked the runs, giving away only 20 in four overs, and memories of the match-winning situations that Chargers have slipped from this season come back. There was no heartbreak for the fans however as Ashish Reddy slapped a couple of boundaries to finish off Royals.