KL Rahul's assault up front and Nicholas Pooran's slam-banging later on in Kings XI Punjab's successful chase of Chennai Super Kings' 170 for 5 was difficult on their "nerves and anxieties", Super Kings coach Stephen Fleming admitted after the game.
They were the first of the teams to qualify for the IPL 2019 playoffs, and a win in Mohali on Sunday afternoon would have ensured a top-of-the-table finish for Super Kings. But, after being pegged back at the close of their innings - they added just 16 runs in the last two overs - and Rahul's 19-ball half-century made them rework their priorities. If not a straight win, Kings XI had to be kept on the field for 14.3 overs or more - that would ensure a top-two finish for sure, and two bites of the cherry as far as qualification for the tournament final was concerned. They managed that, Kings XI finally getting to the target in 18 overs.
"Overall, it was a very good batting effort from their side, but still, we did whatever we could, we tried to manoeuvre our bowlers, it didn't work a lot. (But) if you can't really win a game, the next thing you try to do is to make sure the opposition get the number of runs in the most number of overs," MS Dhoni, the Super Kings captain, said on the official broadcast. "We were able to do that, and quite happy with the way we bowled. Yes, we went for runs, but still we bowled well.
"It's not like you go into a game thinking 14.2 overs is what we are looking at. You want to win the game but, at the same time, if the opposition gets the kind of start it got in this particular game, it's very important to quickly reassess" MS DHONI
"That's something as a leader you have to keep in mind," he went on, when asked about the 14.2-over factor. "It's not like you go into a game thinking 14.2 overs is what we are looking at. You want to win the game but, at the same time, if the opposition gets the kind of start it got in this particular game, it's very important to quickly reassess and adapt as to what's the next best thing that we need to do.
"I think the bowlers did well. I think the first seven overs we were down quite a bit, but after that also it needed some hard work from the bowlers to make sure they don't get the number of runs in 14 or 14.2 overs, and at that point of time, it seemed as if they will be able to if they push hard. So I think credit needs to go to the bowlers to bowl the last eight or nine overs how they did."
For a while, when Faf du Plessis (96 in 55 balls) and Suresh Raina (53 in 38) looked like they would take Super Kings to a total in excess of 180. Sam Curran, however, sent Raina back in the 17th over and, after R Ashwin bowled a four-run over, Curran came back to concede just 11 runs in the 19th, while also bowling du Plessis. Mohammed Shami finished an impressive spell by giving away just five runs and picking up two wickets in the last over.
That gave Kings XI the momentum going into the break, and once Rahul - partnered by an unusually sedate Chris Gayle - scored 68 in the Powerplay, Super Kings were well and truly under the cosh. The fours and sixes were flowing, but Harbhajan Singh, after conceding 41 runs in his first two overs, came back to pick up three wickets to calm the Super Kings nerves, and ensured the victory charge was delayed for long enough.
"It's a difficult day, because on the one hand you have an eye on the equations that you need. We ran as well as we could in the last four overs, they bowled well, and it stopped our momentum for 185-190. And when we fielded, we were aware that we had 14.2 overs to defend," Fleming reflected. "We've played a number of these games, and they are difficult, they do mess with your mind, and we were off on a number of fronts. But we hung tight and the first job for us today was to secure one of two spots, and we've done that."
But all's well that ends well - as far as the league stage is concerned at least - and it's over to tougher battles ahead, starting with the first qualifier in the home comforts of Chepauk.
"Their batting in the first six to eight-ten overs was great, and it was difficult on our nerves and anxieties. But we hung tough and did enough towards the end to just sneak through. It's job done, but it was a performance we'll just flush away. I don't think we'll over-analyse this one," Fleming said. "We did what we had to do and now we look forward to going back to Chennai. It's familiar. Regroup. And, like I said, we won't over-emphasise on our performance here, although Faf was great with the bat.
"But we go back to Chennai now and our concentration will be on recovering from a day's cricket and a long flight tomorrow."
Fleming also suggested that, apart from finding a replacement for the injured Kedar Jadhav, the XI will largely be the same.
"It ebbs and flow throughout the tournament. We can still get better on all facets. Bowling-wise, it's been our strength, somewhat surprisingly, throughout the tournament," he said. "We're now getting into one-off games, and we're going to back these players right through to the end.
"So it's about recovery and just making sure the options and executive are as good as can be. We have drifted a bit in the last couple of games with a little bit of fatigue and a little bit of being near the top of the table. But that's over now, and we can focus on the one-off game in Chennai and go wherever we need to go after that."