Before IPL season 6 kicked off, not many in India would have known who James Faulkner is. Those who have followed Australian cricket closely in the recent times would be aware that he has played a handful of limited-overs international games for his national side and nothing more. However, after the manner in which the left-arm seamer has performed for Rajasthan Royals this season, his is certainly a name followers of IPL would find hard to forget. Following his five-wicket haul against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Saturday, he became the leading wicket-taker of the tournament, with 16 wickets from only six games -- the next best in Sunil Narine with 14 from eight matches. The figures demonstrate how exceptional Faulkner has been.
Faulkner’s greatest strength in this IPL so far has been his accuracy, which came to the fore again on Saturday at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur. He cramped the batsmen for room early on, and a couple of them also played poor strokes to make matters easier for Faulkner and the Royals. Faulkner’s three-wicket spell at the start of the innings, virtually broke the back of Sunrisers’ top and middle order. After Ajit Chandila, who supported Faulkner exceedingly well, got the initial breakthrough, Faulkner was pretty much unstoppable. He frustrated Shikhar Dhawan, Kumar Sangakkara and Karan Sharma into playing poor strokes, which put the Royals on top.
One must say that after finding themselves in a horrendous situation, Sunrisers showed a lot of combativeness to recover. And the man responsible for the same was Darren Sammy. The West Indian skipper reiterated his growing stature in world cricket as a batsman. Mixing caution and aggression in the right proportions, Sammy went about resurrecting the sinking innings. What Sammy did very well was not to slog and play some genuine cricket strokes. He was rewarded handsomely for it, and the support he found from Amit Mishra also came in handy. Faulkner brought the Royals right back by dismissing both, but Dale Steyn played some terrific strokes to help his side to a competitive score.
Even as the Sunrisers had a decent total to defend, they needed Steyn to fire on all cylinders with the ball as well. He began well, sending back Ajinkya Rahane with a beauty. Steyn continued to bowl brilliantly, and beat the bat on numerous occasions. However, Rahul Dravid and Shane Watson brought all their experience into play. The fact that they ensured the Royals do not give away another wicket to Steyn killed Sunrisers’ best chance of fighting back. It was all one-way traffic from there.
As they have often done in the past, Dravid and Watson complemented each other very nicely. With the run rate not an issue, Dravid rotated the strike around without much trouble, coming up with the boundary hits whenever the occasion arose. And while Watson held himself back towards the early part of his innings, he batted like a wizard towards the end, once he knew that there was no way the Royals were going to lose.
Turning point of the game: Faulkner’s three-wicket opening spell, which dented Sunrisers severely.
--By A Cricket Analyst