Punjab Kings 221 for 6 (Rahul 91, Hooda 64, Gayle 40, Sakariya 3-31) beat Rajasthan Royals 217 for 7 (Samson 119, Arshdeep 3-35) by four runs
Rajasthan Royals' new captain Sanju Samson nearly won his side their opening game single-handedly, with a stunning century, but fell short on the last ball by holing out to deep cover when they needed five to win. Chasing a stiff 222, Samson brought it down to 21 off 12 and then 13 off six. They managed only two off the first three balls of the last over and needed 11 from three when Samson crunched Arshdeep Singh over the covers for a six. He then drilled the next delivery along the ground to wide long-off but sent a sprinting Chris Morris back without a single, which took the equation to five from the final ball.
Samson connected well with Singh's cutter but only found deep cover, where Deepak Hooda fittingly took the catch after he had set up the game for the Punjab Kings with a blitz of 64 off 28, the perfect assault they needed after the start KL Rahul and Chris Gayle provided.
After Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler fell within eight overs, for 0 and 25 respectively, the onus was on Samson and he kept the chase on course by taking the Royals past 100 in the 11th over. But he would have also fallen much earlier had the Kings not given him two lives on 12 and 35. Samson cashed in by timing his drives and flicks to perfection and muscling the shorter balls for a total of 12 fours and seven sixes.
The asking rate soared, but so did the boundaries from Samson's bat. With able company from Shivam Dube and Riyan Parag, he hammered a combined 59 runs off 22 balls off the Australian duo of Riley Meredith and Jhye Richardson. The partnership of 52 off 22 balls between him and Parag stretched the match right until the end but it was only a few yards eventually that separated the two sides.
Samson steers the Royals ship alone
When Buttler was bowled by a deceptive slow yorker from Richardson, the Royals needed 152 from 75 balls and Samson was on 29 off 22. Samson's confidence and strokeplay, however, didn't suffer at all. He took on the pace bowlers and only settled for singles or doubles when M Ashwin turned the ball or Mohammed Shami turned in bursts of accurate pace bowling.
It was the combination of Arshdeep and Shami that kept the game in the Kings' favour. When the Royals needed 48 from 24, Shami bowled a mix of short balls and yorkers that went for only eight in the over. When Richardson bowled the next, Samson turned the tables again with crisp strokeplay for 4, 6 and 4 that took him to a 54-ball century. Shami was bowled out, which meant Meredith bowled the penultimate over; Tewatia fell on the first ball but Samson whipped another six on the leg side to bring the equation down to 13 from six.
Arshdeep eventually bowled the toughest over of the night, in which he kept aiming for the wide yorkers. The first three worked, the fourth didn't and eventually he trumped Samson to seal victory.
The Stokes duck and boundary-laden powerplay
The Royals got the big wicket of Stokes on the third ball of the chase but that also nearly resulted in one of the numerous drops of the night. Stokes top-edged a short ball from Shami, and Rahul and Hooda both sprinted towards the ball, as did the bowler, with the keeper-captain colliding with the bowler who still managed to hold on. Three overs later Arshdeep took a sharp return catch off Manan Vohra and would have had Samson too for 12 had Rahul held on while diving to his right. Samson got another life on 35 when Mayank Agarwal dropped him while running back from mid-off. Samson crunched boundaries almost at will thereafter.
The fifth over also had Buttler welcome Meredith to the IPL with four consecutive fours but he fell two overs later to Richardson, having helped the Royals accumulate 59 in the powerplay.
The other powerplay and the other KL Rahul
Rahul's strike rate was often questioned in the last IPL. He may have nullified those questions for now by going for the boundaries often and not dropping anchor. After Mayank Agarwal edged one behind off IPL debutant Chetan Sakariya, Rahul and Chris Gayle picked up at least one boundary an over in their 67-run stand, and even accelerated after the powerplay.
Both Rahul and Gayle were also given lives; Rahul dropped at the long-off boundary by Stokes on 15 and Gayle's difficult return catch put down by Tewatia on 33.
Promoted over Pooran, Hooda steals the show
When Gayle holed out to long-on for 40 off 28, the Kings were 89 for 2 at the halfway mark, the perfect stage to unleash Nicholas Pooran. But they sent in Hooda, and by the time one could think of the reason behind it, the batsman lifted the run rate from nine to 11 an over with a hammering the Royals wouldn't have expected.
The 13th and 14th overs were the most productive with three sixes each. Rahul started the assault off Shivam Dube with a straight six for his 30-ball half-century, and Hooda ended the over with sixes on either side of the pitch. The 14th over belonged only to Hooda as he dispatched three Shreyas Gopal deliveries for sixes whenever the ball pitched in his slot. Hooda was also given a life in the next over when he skied a Mustafizur Rahman cutter - Buttler ran back from cover and barely got his hands under the ball.
The Royals paid the price for that as well. Hooda whipped a no-look six off Morris, brought up a 20-ball fifty and punished Sakariya with three consecutive fours at the end of the 17th over despite some clever pace and length variations from the bowler. Morris eventually had Hooda caught at long-on but Rahul continued to strike sixes, even as Pooran fell for a first-ball duck. Rahul and Shahrukh Khan collected another 15 off the 19th over as extras from Rahman also added to the Kings' total, before another impressive over from Sakariya meant the 20th went for only five and he finished a memorable debut with 3 for 31.
Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo