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Ben Stokes of the Rajasthan Royals plays a switch-hit against the Kings XI Punjab in IPL 2020 in Abu Dhabi on October 31, 2020. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

The Indian Premier League may be playing away from India, but there hasn’t been any shortage of intensity and excitement. The UAE edition must rank as one of the best of the 13 seasons. The first half did have its thrills and spills, but the second half produced some dramatic results and turnaround in fortunes as the scramble for the playoff slots heated up.

Suddenly, the teams which have been in a slump found a second wind. None exemplified that more than the Kings XI Punjab, who came off a miserable run and stitched together five consecutive victories and are rewarded with a possible last-four place.

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Chris Gayle of the Kings XI Punjab pulls for a six in the IPL 2020 game against the Rajasthan Royals in Abu Dhabi on October 30, 2020. His magnificent 99 went in vain as Rajasthan won by seven wickets.. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

The Rajasthan Royals, in contrast, got off to a flier before hitting the depths of despair. Here there are, back in contention for the playoff. The chances are slender, but they have reason to hope. More so after Friday’s superb chase of Punjab’s total, which followed the one against the mighty Mumbai Indians.

The chase was impressive. It was constructed almost copybook style. A good start without losing wickets, a healthy run rate in the powerplay and partnerships: Rajasthan had all of them. And they cantered home in the 18th over.

Ben Stokes (50 runs off 26 balls) blazed away as Rajasthan posted 60 inside the powerplay before the first wicket fell. Robin Uthappa was involved in two partnerships: one gave them the start and the second, a 52-run stand with Sanju Samson (48 off 25), put Rajasthan on the road to victory. By the time Samson was run out, he had put on 34 with Steve Smith to take his side to the doorstep of a win. Smith and Jos Buttler lashed 41 more to take Rajasthan home. Partnerships, that did it for Rajasthan.

This was a game where all four of Rajasthan’s world-class players showed why they are among the best in the business. If they had produced this form earlier in the tournament, Rajasthan would have sewed up a last-four berth by now.

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Buried in the rubble of Punjab’s loss was a splendid 99 (63) by Chris Gayle. Reprieved early in the innings, the West Indian rolled back the years to bludgeon eight sixes mostly in the arc between square leg and long-off. His 120-run stand with skipper KL Rahul (46 off 41) raised visions of a mammoth total, but Rajasthan reeled them in after Gayle departed. Still, 165 was a formidable total, but a collective effort from Rajasthan made the chase look easy.

Rajasthan have become more like Punjab. They have caught a tailwind to gain momentum. If they qualify (technically it’s still possible), Rajasthan could well have a good shot at the title. That’s if they perform to potential. Any doubts? Ask the Mumbai Indians.