Nellai Royal Kings was in a spot of bother with 57 needed off 21 balls to qualify for the final. Nidhish Rajagopal was struggling to find the boundaries, scoring 26 off 27, even as G. Ajitesh (73 n.o., 44b, 5x4, 5x6) single-handedly kept the side in the game with another swashbuckling innings.
It took a brave call by the Royal Kings management to retire Nidhish and get Rithik Easwaran (39 n.o., 11b, 6x6) in. Under tremendous pressure, The young left-handerr showed a calm head and used his beautiful bat swing to do the talking with telling effect as Royal Kings beat Dindigul Dragons by seven wickets in a nail-biting thrilling Qualifier-2 of the TNPL here at the ICL ground on Monday.
With 37 needed off the last two overs, Rithik flayed G. Kishoor for three sixes down the ground off the first three balls of the 19th over. Ajitesh hit the fifth ball for a six before Kishoor delivered a no ball off the last delivery, allowing Rithik to scoop the final legal delivery over fine-leg as 33 came off that over.
However, Dragons did not go down without a fight as Subodh Bhati did his best to defend four runs in the 20th over, bringing the equation to one off the last ball. But Rithik finished the chase in style by depositing a low full toss over square-leg to ensure that Nellai will meet Lyca Kovai Kings in the final on Wednesday.
The chase though was set up by Ajitesh who continued to impress with his attacking backfoot play and ensured the Nellai side kept up with the asking rate. The diminutive right-hander cut loose in the 15th over, hitting Kishoor for consecutive sixes by charging down the wicket, the second of which got him to his third consecutive half-century of the tournament.
Earlier, Shivam Singh continued his fine form in the tournament slamming 76 (46b, 4x4, 6x6) to ensure Dragons ended up 185 for five after being asked to bat. Shivam and the left-handed M. Boopathi Vaishnav Kumar (41, 27b, 4x4, 1x6) added 81 for the second wicket to help Dragons set up a competitive total.
The scores: Dindigul Dragons 185/5 in 20 overs (Shivam Singh 76, M. Boopathi Vaishnav Kumar 41, Sonu Yadav 2/31) lost to Nellai Royal Kings 191/3 in 20 overs (K.B. Arun Karthick 26, G. Ajitesh 73 n.o., Nidhish Rajagopal 26 rtd, Rithik Easwaran 39 n.o.).