Mumbai, May 16: Rajasthan Royals (RR) rode on Shane Watson's superb century to enter the playoffs of the Indian Premier League 2015 (IPL 8) with a 9-run victory over defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) here at the Brabourne Stadium on Saturday night.
Chasing 200 to win in 20 overs, KKR were in the hunt as long as Andre Russell (37 off 20) and Yusuf Pathan (44 off 35) were batting. But Russell's dismissal in the 14th over and later Yusuf's exit in 16th put paid to their chances of victory. KKR ended at 190/9.
Chris Morris was the best bowler for RR with 4/23 in 4 overs. Watson had 2 scalps including the danger man Yusuf. Dhawal Kulkarni too had 2 successes and James Faulkner 1.
Towards the end, there were some anxious moments for RR as Umesh Yadav (24 off 11) hit 3 fours and a six off James Faulkner in the 19th over to bring down the equation to 16 off the final over. Morris, however, held his nerve to deliver a 9-run victory for the home team.
RR, the 2008 edition winners, ended their league campaign at 2nd in the table with 16 points. KKR, however, will hope for some divine intervention tomorrow in Sunrisers Hyderabad-Mumbai Indians to make the cut for the top-four.
KKR have 15 points and SRH, MI - 14 each. If SRH-MI game is washed out tomorrow in Hyderabad then it comes down to net run rate as to who goes through. In that case, KKR will go ahead as they have a superior net run rate than SRH and MI.
RR are the second side to make the last-four in this edition so far. Chennai Super Kings (CSK) were the first as the number one team in the table. Tomorrow is the last day of the league stage.
Watson powers RR to 199/6
Earlier, opener Watson's belligerent 104 not out powered RR to a formidable 199/6 in 20 overs. The burly Australian smashed five sixes and struck nine fours in his 59 ball blitz the fourth hundred of this season - besides putting on a rollicking opening stand of 80 with Ajinkya Rahane (37).
Watson went on undeterred at the other end though he lost his partners regularly to remain unconquered after joining AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle (both Royal Challengers Bangalore) and Brendon McCullum (Chennai Super Kings) in the century-makers list of season 8.
Andre Russell was the Knight Riders' most impressive bowler on view as he put the brakes first and then picked up 3 for 32.
The most expensive was Azhar Mahmood (0-41 in his 3 overs), a surprise inclusion for this do-or-die game after not figuring in a single match earlier.
Royals got off to a real flyer after opting to bat first by racing to their fifty in just five overs with openers Rahane and Watson in punishing mood.
Watson set the tone in the opening over by flicking Mahmood for a couple of fours. Rahane picked up the cue at the other end by slashing Morne Morkel over point for a stunning six after glancing him fine for a boundary.
And in the last powerplay over, bowled by left arm spinner Shakib Al Hasan, Watson cut loose with a pulled four and a lofted straight six to help Royals end up with an impressive 66 for no loss after six overs.
Rahane punished Mehmood's no-ball with a six over long on off the free-hit that he got and then square cut the bowler for a four when Knight Riders received a slice of luck.
Rahane was run out at the non-striker's end after being sent back by Watson when attempting a second run to deep extra cover.
The 100 came up in 9.2 overs and Watson completed his fifth off 31 balls in the same over at the end of which the Royals were 107 for 1.
Captain Steve Smith departed, caught off a high full toss from Russell for 14 after adding 30 with Watson.
The West Indian all-rounder arrested the run-rate and also dismissed Sanju Samson and big-hitting James Faulkner cheaply to leave Royals at 140 for 4 in the 15th over.
But Mahmood was hit for a six and two fours in the 17th over by Watson to undo the splendid work of Russell. The last five overs swelled Royals' kitty by 53 runs.