Virat Kohli hasn't batted a lot without AB de Villiers at the other end this IPL. They have had three 100-plus partnerships for the second wicket in their previous four matches, with their lowest tally being 59 against Mumbai Indians where their exit in the same over resulted in a diminished total. Against Gujarat Lions, Kohli and de Villiers completed their customary 50-run stand, but added only one more run as Pravin Tambe snipped de Villiers with a flatter legbreak that constricted his inside-out scoop. Their partnership lasted six overs, their shortest alliance so far in terms of number of balls faced.

Prior to this innings, Kohli had played only 41 balls and scored 63 without de Villiers' company, as opposed to 203 off 171 with him present at the other end. It wasn't exactly Green Lantern minus his power ring, but the most synchronised partners of this IPL were now separated. With Shane Watson opening the innings and being dismissed early there wasn't much middle order muscle either. You could argue they still had Sarfaraz Khan, Kedhar Jadhav and Stuart Binny but, without de Villiers, Kohli had to be the pace-setter, especially after he had opted to bat first.

Giving Kohli company was KL Rahul, who wasn't even supposed to be playing in the first place. His name was penciled into the side after Mandeep Singh injured himself at the last moment. Rahul's previous contributions amounted to 30 off 24 balls from two innings. Meanwhile, Kohli had already launched into a dash, and as repetitive as it might seem, his gap-finding ability couldn't be overstated. In the fifth over, Tambe bowled with a cluster of fielders on the off side with a big gap between cover point and extra cover. Kohli drilled a pair of successive drives smack bang into the gap - he moved slightly inside the line on the first occasion and then punch-drove the second off a good length.

But, after de Villiers departed Kohli had to contend with a lull from overs eight to 12, where Royal Challengers scored only 25 runs. He had started to cramp up as well - Kohli later said he had slightly sprained his ankle while pushing for a quick double - and needed Rahul, who was on 12 off 15 balls, to back him up. Rahul amped up his innings at the right time, and scored at least one boundary in four of the next five overs.

The force was decisively multiplied in the 16th over after Rahul played out three dot balls to Dhawal Kulkarni, getting beaten on two of those. Kohli, on 62 off 46 balls, walked up to him and, going by his gesticulation, appeared to tell him where he could target. The next two balls were pulled and carted over deep midwicket and long-off respectively. Royal Challengers ransacked 65 runs off the last five overs as Kohli switched from marathon to sprint mode. He moved from 75 off 53 to 85 off 58 and finally 100 off 63 - his maiden T20 century. The crowd, when Kohli was batting, had no issues in switching loyalities. His runs were not gained from easy put-aways to short boundaries.

Kohli ran at full tilt despite his niggle and, in a fascinating piece of play, clipped Bravo to Ravindra Jadeja at deep midwicket and hared back for the second run. Jadeja hurtled in like a man possessed and launched a flat throw right next to the stumps, but Kohli still had enough in his tank to get home. Rahul, while not de Villiers, had proven himself to be a worthy partner as they raised what was seemed a competitive total.

Kohli probably knew that questions would be asked of his team's bowling, but tactically there weren't many more buttons he could have pushed. He did well to mix up spin and pace in the first six overs, but 72 runs - the highest Powerplay score in this year's IPL - had left them with little wiggle room later. Tabraiz Shamsi had another successful outing but Kohli afterwards rued too many hittable deliveries from the rest of his attack, along with nine wides and two no-balls. Royal Challengers, through Yuzvendra Chahal and Watson, hit Lions with whatever they had towards the end, but couldn't really muster that little extra when required. To get there, they needn't look beyond their captain for inspiration.

Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun