Murali Vijay, Albie Morkel maul Rajasthan Royals

Opener Murali Vijay cracked a blistering 56-ball century as Chennai Super Kings kept their semifinal hopes alive by beating Rajasthan Royals by 23 runs in a high-scoring Indian Premier League match here on Saturday.

Opting to bat, Chennai rode on Vijay’s stunning knock of 127 to post a highly challenging 246 on the board, which is the highest score in the cash-awash tournament.

Vijay lit up the M Chidambaram Stadium with the stunning innings, which he adorned with 11 sixes and eight fours, while Albie Morkel also made a breezy 34-ball 62.

The hosts then restricted Rajasthan to 223 for five, as opener Naman Ojha’s unbeaten 55-ball 94 and Shane Watson’s 60 off 25 balls went in vain.

Chasing the stiff 247-run target, Rajasthan were off to a flying start with Michael Lumb (37 off 26) and Naman Ojha producing a 69-run opening partnership, before the Englishman was removed by Morkel in the eighth over. Lumb struck four six fours and a six during his innings.

Hard-hitting batsman Yusuf Pathan (4), however, failed to show his pyrotechnics and returned cheaply when Morkel struck for his second wicket in the last ball of the same over.

Watson, who hit five fours and as many sixes, then paired up with Ojha in the middle and the duo added 97 runs for third wicket partnership.

But the partnership came to an end just when their team was cruising to the target, thanks to Doug Bollinger who bowled out Watson in the 16th over.

From thereon, Rajasthan’s runrate continued to dip and they kept losing wickets at regular intervals.

Faiz Fazal (4) and Abhishek Jhunjhunwala (7) failed to deliver in the middle as despite a classy knock by Ojha, Rajasthan failed to achieve the target.

For the hosts, Bollinger and Morkel took two wickets apiece, giving away 15 and 56 runs respectively.

Earlier, Rajasthan’s bowlers literally scurried for cover as Vijay came out with the stunning knock and Chennai bettered their own record of 240 runs against Punjab in an earlier match this season.

It was a scintillating batting display by Vijay, who came out to open the innings with Australian power-hitter Matthew Hayden.

Although Hayden also looked dangerous but yet again he failed to convert the good start and fell for a 21-ball 34 that included five fours and one massive six.

Hayden was dismissed by Shrikant Wagh when he hit a half volley to extra cover, giving a simple catch to Watson, playing his first match for Chennai this season after being kept busy by national duty so far.

Next man in Suresh Raina also departed after a 13-run cameo that came off seven balls. Raina hit a couple of fours before becoming Shane Warne’s only victim of the match.

Joined by the aggressive Morkel in the middle, Vijay went on a rampage sparing none of the Rajasthan bowlers. Morkel raced to a 34-ball 62 before being run out in the last over of the innings. The South African struck three fours and five sixes in his knock and put on a rollicking 152-run partnership for the third wicket with Vijay.

Neither Shaun Tait or Watson’s pace nor Warne or Pathan’s spin had an answer to Vijay and Morkel’s aggression.

The two combined to smash 15 sixes in the match as the team crossed 200 in just 16.5 overs. Vijay reached his hundred after smashing a four off Watson and it took him just 46 balls. He was dismissed in the final over by Watson.

Vijay and Morkel’s destructive batting meant that none of the Rajasthan bowlers could return respectable figures. Their talismanic skipper Warne didn’t even complete his quota of overs and went for 32 runs in three that he bowled, picking up just one wicket.

Sumit Narwal had the worst figures as he leaked a whopping 41 runs in just two overs.

Watson’s two for 47 in four overs were hardly impressive either as both the wickets came in the final over of the match.

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