Punjab Kings 179 for 5 (Rahul 91*, Gayle 46, Jamieson 2-32) beat Royal Challengers Bangalore 145 for 8 (Kohli 35, Brar 3-19, Bishnoi 2-17) by 34 runs

In three previous IPL matches, stretched across as many seasons, Harpreet Brar had failed to take a wicket with his left-arm spin, while being dispatched at close to ten an over. All that was forgotten in the space of seven incredible deliveries, as Brar extracted three of the most prized scalps in the tournament without conceding a single run, to set the Punjab Kings up for a precious and timely victory over the Royal Challengers Bangalore in Ahmedabad.

Brar's dismissals of Virat Kohli, Glenn Maxwell and AB de Villiers ensured that the closing overs of the Kings' defence of 180 were a formality, as the Royal Challengers could manage only 145 for 8 and lost by 34 runs - their second defeat in three matches, meaning they squandered the chance to leapfrog the Chennai Super Kings at the top of the standings. Instead, it was the Kings who drew level with defending champions Mumbai Indians on six points, to keep themselves in touch with a playoff place.

As if Brar's contribution with the ball was not enough, he also pocketed a catch in the deep to give his fellow spinner Ravi Bishnoi the first of his two richly deserved scalps and - more importantly - provided his captain, KL Rahul, with some priceless death-overs support with the bat.

A familiar middle-order malfunction had threatened once again to derail the Kings' hopes of a competitive total. Instead, Brar stood firm with 25 off 17 in an unbeaten 61-run stand for the sixth wicket, as Rahul romped to 91 not out from 57 balls - a performance that his opponents scarcely matched between them.

Gayle serves a reminder of past glories
Mayank Agarwal's absence, after taking a blow to the forearm against the Kolkata Knight Riders, presented an opportunity for the Kings to roll back the years, and thrust Chris Gayle back up the order with a licence to tonk. It was a bet that they chose to hedge, with 20-year-old Prahsimran Singh coming in instead for his first appearance of the campaign (and fourth in total) but without much impact - one urgent flog through the line off Daniel Sams quickly gave way to a top-edged pull off Kyle Jamieson, as he trooped off for a run-a-ball 7.

So Gayle entered the fray at No. 3 but had only faced two balls by the start of the sixth and final over of the powerplay - by which stage the Kings had dribbled along to an underwhelming 29 for 1. His response was typical and emphatic: five fours in six balls as Jamieson was handed an impromptu schooling, each of them slammed through the arc between mid-off to mid-on, with only a fifth-ball full-toss avoiding the boundary treatment.

And just like that, Gayle's eye was in. The very next delivery he faced, from Yuzvendra Chahal, was panned for a flat six into the sightscreen, and he repeated the dose with the final ball of the same over to march to 36 from 13. Sams eventually ended the fun when Gayle clothed a pull to the wicketkeeper on 46, but it made you wonder, what on earth had the Kings been waiting for?

Pooran completes an unwanted set
Part of the answer perhaps lay in the abject form of Gayle's fellow left-handed West Indian, Nicholas Pooran. One of the most dashing talents in the game cannot buy a run at present - his form, in fact, rather evokes that of a similarly flamboyant talent from yesteryear, Keith Arthurton, who mustered scores of 1, 0, 0, 1 and 0 for West Indies at the 1996 World Cup.

Pooran did at least reach a run-a-ball 19 in his last outing against the Knight Riders (which more than doubled his only previous non-zero score in four innings, 9 from eight balls against the Delhi Capitals). But today he was back to quack, as Jamieson used all of his height to rattle his splice with an off-stump lifter, for Shahbaz Ahmed to pocket a lobbed edge at gully. Pooran was gone for a three-ball duck, to follow his first-ball duck against the Rajasthan Royals, his second-ball duck against the Super Kings, and his no-ball duck against the Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Rahul's innings of many tempos
At least Pooran's skipper can empathise. It wasn't so long ago that Rahul himself was going through a similar trough, with scores of 0, 1, 0 and 0 in consecutive T20Is against Australia and England. He confirmed his emphatic return to form with another superb innings of 91 not out from 57 balls, his fourth half-century in seven innings in this IPL, and one that matched his previous best of the campaign, in their opening fixture against the Royals.

Rahul's final strike rate of almost 160 was all the more impressive given how sedate his tempo had been in two distinct passages of play - first while he was slipstreaming Gayle to reach 18 from 21 in the powerplay, and later when he was forced to stick rather than twist as the Kings' sketchy middle order shipped four wickets in as many overs to slide from 99 for 1 to 118 for 5, until Brar's arrival at No. 7 provided the stability their captain needed.

In between whiles, however, Rahul put the hammer down to glorious effect. He rushed to a 35-ball fifty with a fusillade of sixes off Chahal, Sams and Jamieson, but it was his back-end acceleration that turned a middling total into a defendable one - in particular a trio of scoops for four, six, four in Harshal Patel's final over of the innings. With two balls to go, a century was on the cards until Rahul miscued a pull for a very reluctant single, but Brar was on hand to flog the final ball over square leg. It was an early indication that this might just be his night.

Pace in the powerplay
The Kings threw everything at their opening gambit. Riley Meredith (who would limp off in his final over after wearing a fierce straight drive on the knee) and Mohammed Shami launched their assault with five overs of high-quality pace bowling. Meredith sent Devdutt Padikkul's off stump cartwheeling, one ball after being muscled over point for six, while Shami's duel with Kohli was compelling. An alpha-ing of a first-ball slap back down the ground for four was as many runs as Shami would concede in his next ten balls, as he focussed on hitting a perfectly vertical seam.

Chris Jordan got the memo with a similarly excellent first over that went for four, and suddenly the Royal Challengers' asking rate was rushing towards two a ball as the spinners seized the stage with a licence to toss it up and invite the big swipes.

Harpreet harpoons the big fishes
Kohli had connected sweetly to launch Brar's first delivery of the match into the sightscreen, and opened his stance in his second over to fillet a drive through the covers - plus ca change he must have felt. But, with Bishnoi's wrist-spinning trickery conceding just six runs in two overs, the contest was cracked in Brar's third over - the 11th of the innings - a double-wicket maiden that ripped the chase off its hinges.

Kohli was the first to go, dancing down the track with frustration steaming out of his ears, and pirouetting through a flat pull to lose his leg stump through the gate. One ball later, Maxwell had his off stump clipped as Brar ripped one round his outside edge, a moment so bamboozling that the third umpire had to check exactly what had happened.

de Villiers survived the hat-trick ball - just - with a nervy jab into the covers, but Brar had his number one over later, as he cleared the front leg out of desperation, and chipped a head-high chance to Rahul at short extra cover. At 69 for 4 in the 13th, with Rajat Patidar a bewildered and becalmed onlooker, there was no coming back from that.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket