Kings XI Punjab 177 for 2 (Rahul 61*, Gayle 53, Agarwal 45) beat Royal Challengers Bangalore 171 for 6 (Kohli 48, Ashwin 2-23) by eight wickets
Two men who had been part of the Royal Challengers Bangalore's most recent successful year combined to put on a 93-run stand that was the bedrock of a win that turned from a stroll to a last-gasp win for the Kings XI Punjab.
Both KL Rahul (61* off 49) and Chris Gayle (53 off 45) had been part of the Royal Challengers in 2016 when they reached the final, and the two came together after another ex-Royal Challengers man in Mayank Agarwal had given Kings XI a flying start with a 25-ball 45. Just like they have in several matches in IPL 2020, Kings XI looked in complete control of their chase, having motored to 161 for 1 in 17 overs, with just 11 needed in 18 balls.
Somehow, they contrived to bring that equation down to two runs off the last over, which incredibly enough, turned into one to win off the last ball. While visions of how Kings XI had botched winning positions swirled, Nicholas Pooran walked out to face his first ball and calmly stepped out to turn a loopy Yuzvendra Chahal delivery into a full toss that was toe-ended for a straight six. The short boundaries at Sharjah would have got a vote of thanks from the Kings XI team with the ball just about clearing the outstretched arms of the long-on fielder. Kings XI now have two wins in the tournament, both against the Royal Challengers.
In the first innings, the Kings XI bowlers had done well to keep the Royal Challengers to 171 for 6. They were helped by the team's rather strange tactic of pushing AB de Villiers down to No. 6. This on a ground where he had just played what captain Virat Kohli described as a 'superhuman' innings in the Royal Challengers last game at this venue, against the Kolkata Knight Riders. By the time de Villiers eventually walked out, 16 overs had been bowled. The second wicket had fallen in the seventh over, when de Villiers is usually expected to walk out, but the Royal Challengers wanted to keep a left-right combination going with Kohli at the crease. Out came Washington Sundar at No.4, and even when he was out in the 11th over, it was Shivam Dube who came in at No.5.
The rejigged batting order, might have cost the Royal Challengers some runs, and given how the match panned out, perhaps two points as well.
Royal Challengers' intent at the start
Aaron Finch was walking down the track almost every ball, even against Mohammed Shami's pace. He didn't always connect cleanly but the thinking was clear - to cut out on the swing, and at the same time protect himself from the incoming ball that has caused him trouble. Devdutt Padikkal used his twirling bat and wrists to good effect too, although he fell to Arshdeep Singh in the fifth over. When Kohli came out to bat, he hit three fours in his first seven balls.
There seemed to be a real intent to go hard from the start, and not have to rely on the sort of miraculous innings that de Villiers had pulled off in their last game at this venue, against the Knight Riders. It all seemed to be working out to plan until Finch fell, to leave the team 62 for 2 in 6.3 overs, and everyone expected de Villiers to be walking out…
The strange case of de Villiers' batting position
Instead, it was Sundar who came in at No.4. Sundar has shown his batting chops in domestic cricket, but he hasn't yet batted enough in the IPL. He couldn't get going, caught off M Ashwin for 13 off 14, but there was still no de Villiers. Dube was in next, and the Royal Challengers decision to pair up a left-hander with Kohli to negate the two legspinners Kings XI had in Ashwin and Ravi Bishnoi backfired. It allowed Kings XI to bowl Glenn Maxwell for four overs, which yielded only 28 runs.
Ashwin and Gayle were the two planned changes for Kings XI, with a third forced change in Deepak Hooda coming in for an injured Mandeep. Ashwin, who had taken 3 for 21 in the first match against the Royal Challengers, did an excellent job again, with 2 for 23 in four overs.
That the Royal Challengers eventually got to where they did was thanks to Chris Morris smashing 25 off 8 balls in the last two overs.
Two strong stands for Kings XI
The Royal Challengers began by denying any room to Rahul and Agarwal to cut down on scoring opportunity. No slip was there too, with all fielders inside the circle being in run-saving positions instead. But Agarwal showed the fine touch he has been in this IPL with a 15-run over against Chahal, and eventual powerplay score of 56 without a wicket down. Agarwal continued to attack, before Chahal castled him on an attempted slog-sweep. The opening stand had yielded 78 runs in eight overs though, setting Kings XI well on course.
Gayle, in for his first game of IPL 2020, was pushed out of his familiar opening spot since the Rahul-Agarwal combine had been prolific, and he began in staid fashion. He hadn't batted in a competitive match since January too. He was given out off Morris when on 20, but after a consultation with Rahul opted to review. The lbw call was overturned due to an inside edge. The start given by Agarwal meant Kings XI could absorb a few quiet overs, and Gayle found his range when Kohli chose Mohammad Siraj for the 16th over, followed by Washington Sundar for the 17th. From needing 46 in 30 balls, the equation had come down to 11 off 18.
The scramble at the finish
Morris bowled four dot balls in the 18th over, Isuru Udana followed that with a five-run over. Still with just two needed off the final over, Kings XI had the situation well in hand. Until it suddenly wasn't. There were two dot balls to start, one mistimed slog-sweep for one, and then another dot ball.
With one run still needed for a win, the nerves began jangling and Rahul called Gayle through for a quick single that most batsmen would have found tough to make. Run out at the striker's end, still one run needed to win and a new batsman walking in. Kings XI had clattered 35 runs in overs 16 and 17. They took up the next 2.5 overs in scoring just 10 runs, and also losing Gayle. Eventually, Pooran's confidence in his ability to clear the straight boundary meant they were saved another heartbreak.