Rajasthan Royals snuck into the Top 2 at the very end. The second spot, long occupied by Lucknow Super Giants, fell the Royals’ way when they defeated the same opposition by 24 runs in their penultimate encounter. Champions in the inaugural season, the Royals’ have since underwhelmed on-field while courting controversy off it. With their highest finish in the league phase since their title-winning season, the side will have two cracks at making the IPL Final. However, Sanju Samson & Co. will bid to seal a place in the same at the first time of asking. Squaring off against table-toppers Gujarat Titans, expect sparks to fly in the first qualifier. However, with the qualifier a couple of days away, we look back on Rajasthan Royals’ progress through the League phase.

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The Royals began their campaign with an emphatic 61-run win against Sunrisers Hyderabad. Riding on skipper Samson’s quickfire 55 and healthy contributions from Jos Buttler, Devdutt Padikkal and Shimron Hetmyer, RR posted 210 runs which proved far too much for Kane Williamson’s SRH. A breezy curtain-raiser was followed by a comfortable win against eventual wooden-spooners Mumbai Indians. Easing to a 23 run win, Jos Buttler shone with a blazing 100 off 68 balls.

The next three games would bring mixed fortunes for Rajasthan. Having set Royal Challengers Bangalore a target of 170, RCB were on the ropes at 87/5 in 13 overs. If not for Dinesh Karthik’s late burst of 44*, RR would have cruised to a third straight win. Instead, the veteran wicketkeeper handed the Royals their first defeat of the season. Yuzvendra Chahal’s 4/41 would guide Rajasthan to a tight three-run win against Lucknow Super Giants in their next outing. A defeat to Gujarat Titans would follow. Tamed by a daring 87* by Titans’ skipper Pandya, Rajasthan would not recover. Buttler, however, continued his rich vein of form with a well made 54 off 24 balls. Unfazed by the twin reversals, the Royals would spin three wins on the bounce. A high scoring affair against KKR was lit up by Buttler’s belligerent 103 (off 61 balls) and Chahal’s 5/40 which included a hattrick. Against Delhi Capitals, the Englishman reeled off consecutive centuries with an even more devastating 116 off 65 balls. Set 223 to win, Pant’s side would fall 15 runs short of RR’s score.

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Desperate to continue their winning streak, Rajasthan would avenge their loss to RCB. Batting first, Guwahati-born youngster Riyan Parag dug the Royals out of a hole scoring a match-turning 56 on a slow wicket. Defending 145, the Royals would make short work of proceedings, bowling the opposition out for 115. Pacer Kuldeep Sen and veteran offie Ravichandran Ashwin were the pick of bowlers with figures of 4/20 and 3/17 respectively.

RR would suffer surprise back-to-back losses against Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders. Buttler’s 67 went in vain, as Mumbai reeled off their required 159 with relative ease. For KKR, Rinku Singh’s dashing 42* -in pursuit of 153- would seal an unlikely victory for the struggling Knight Riders. Unperturbed, the Royals bounced back with a win against Punjab Kings. Chahal was excellent with his leg breaks, snaring 3/28. Yet, the Kings would still set an imposing 190 to chase, buoyed by Bairstow’s 56 and Ritesh Sharma’s scorching 38*. Youngster Yashasvi Jaiswal creamed 68 off 41 balls, helming the chase expertly. With contributions by Buttler, Hetmyer and Padikkal the Royals edged home with two balls to spare. However, their recent middling run would continue with defeat to Delhi. An inspired Mitchell Marsh put in an all-round performance to slay the Royals’ charge. With wickets of opening bat Jaiswal and half-centurion (and surprise no.3) Ashwin, the Australian was pivotal in keeping the Royals’ score to a manageable 160. With bat in hand, Marsh would combine with fellow Aussie David Warner in a 144 run partnership, easing Delhi to an eight-wicket win in 18.1 overs.

Needing to win at least one of their remaining two encounters, the Royals rocked up against Lucknow in a high stakes clash. A win would nudge them above the newcomers, while defeat would leave them on the precipice. Tasked with chasing 179, the Giants folded in the face of some tight bowling. Left-arm seamer Trent Boult led the charge with a fine spell of 2/18 in his four overs. Eventually falling 24 runs short, Samson’s side would leapfrog Lucknow into second place. With a place in the play-offs guaranteed, Rajasthan saw off the league phase with a nervy win against a disappointing Chennai Super Kings. While Moeen Ali’s 93 helped the four-time champions to a defendable score of 150/6, CSK were undone by oldboy Ashwin. His brisk 40* off 23 deliveries delivered a last-over win and confirmed second spot for the Royals.