Rahul floors Daredevils with fastest IPL fifty
Kings XI Punjab 167 for 4 (Rahul 51, Nair 50) beat Delhi Daredevils 166 for 7 (Gambhir 55, Mujeeb 2-28) by six wickets
KL Rahul blasted the IPL's fastest half-century to give Kings XI Punjab a rousing start to their 2018 IPL campaign. Rahul razed the Daredevils attack in a brutal performance, getting to the landmark inside three overs and off just 14 balls.
Incongruously, though, Kings XI ended up huffing and puffing to their target of 167. After Rahul's dismissal, Kings XI only managed 103 runs in 84 balls. But such had been the damage inflicted by Rahul that they still ended up winning with seven balls to spare.
All that after Gautam Gambhir, the Daredevils captain, celebrated his return to his hometown franchise with a fighting half-century. But Kings XI's spin duo of R Ashwin and the 17-year old debutant Mujeeb Ur Rahman led a strong bowling performance to restrict Daredevils to a total that was just about par.
Mujeeb's instant reward
At 17 years and 11 days, Mujeeb became the IPL's youngest-ever player. Mujeeb has all the qualities that underline an effective limited-overs spinner: his variations keep the batsmen guessing, he can be deceptive with his trajectory, and his unusual action makes it difficult to pick him out of the hand.
Colin Munro tends to struggle against spin in the Powerplay: he has fallen to them four times in 17 innings during this phase in T20s. After opening with himself, Ashwin introduced Mujeeb in the third over. Munro took zero time to try and suss out the newcomer, getting down for a switch hit to the first ball he faced from him. Mujeeb's drift from around the stumps got Munro into a tangle, and trapped him plumb in front. Daredevils were 12 for 1 in the third over.
Until Sunday, Gambhir had faced 42 balls from Axar Patel in all T20s. His numbers against him: 36 runs at 5.14 an over. And that included just two fours. On Sunday, he doubled the tally off the first two balls he faced from the left-arm spinner, first with a flowing inside-out drive through cover, and then with a crunching sweep. He followed that up with a superbly timed chip over long-off.
A typically fluent Gambhir against spin was on display. He made brilliant use of his feet and especially favoured the inside-out shot to counter the drift. In his first match back with his hometown franchise, Gambhir notched up a half-century - the 36th of his IPL career - and kept Daredevils on course for a strong total.
Walking the talk
Ashwin followed up on his pre-season declaration of trying to be as unpredictable as possible, both with his own bowling and the manner in which he rotated his other bowlers. He began by using five different bowlers inside the Powerplay.
Kings XI stacked their attack with three spinners, and each of them contributed to pulling the team back. Axar removed Shreyas Iyer to end a 42-run second-wicket stand - the best of Daredevils' innings. Rishabh Pant's cameo briefly swung the momentum back, before Mujeeb had him with a googly, thanks to a brilliant catch by Andrew Tye, running backwards from extra cover. Mujeeb then nailed a direct hit to account for Gambhir, run out for the 16th time - an IPL record.
Ashwin tantalised with offbreaks, legbreaks, carrom balls and flippers: all of them delivered with superb control. He had Rahul Tewatia lbw on an attempted switch hit, and it looked as though Daredevils would have to settle for a below-par total.
But Daredevils still had Chris Morris, a man with a smart strike rate of 241 at the death. Since the 2015 IPL, he has also been striking at 157 in the first 10 balls he faces. His unbeaten 16-ball 27, after coming in at the start of the 16th over, was just what Daredevils needed at the finish.
Rampaging Rahul seals the deal
The skiddy nature of this Mohali surface meant the odd ball could keep low, and lbw was always a looming threat. The key was to stick to a fullish length and a stump-to-stump line, and you were in with a chance to pick up quick wickets.
Rahul, however, came out swinging, and a wayward Daredevils attack fed him by bowling all over the place. One bowler after the other was left stunned by the ease with which Rahul played off either foot. Bowl it full, and he'd meet them with a solid stride and drive imperiously; drop it short, and he'd shift back with ease and hack them through the leg side. Each delivery was a gift that came tied with a ribbon.
After Rahul fell, hometown hero Yuvraj Singh scratched and struggled, Karun Nair struck a fifty that largely went unnoticed despite coming at a strike rate of 151.51, and David Miller and Marcus Stoinis coasted to the target with an unbroken stand of 29.
Akshay Gopalakrishnan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo