Gayle, Rahul launch Kings XI to the top
Kings XI Punjab 126 for 1 (Gayle 62*, Rahul 60) beat Kolkata Knight Riders 191 for 7 (Lynn 74, Karthik 43, Tye 2-30) by nine wickets (via DLS method). It is quite rare that T20 matches are decided in the Powerplay. Saturday was one such day when Kings XI Punjab’s openers KL Rahul and Chris Gayle outmuscled Kolkata Knight Riders’ Chris Lynn and Robin Uthappa to put them on top of the points table after a rain-hit clash. While KKR struck eight boundaries in their first six overs, Kings XI smashed 14 and were 73 for 0 by the end of the Powerplay in a chase of 192. Rain then forced a delay of about 90 minutes, after which the target was revised to 125 off 13 overs. Rahul holed out for a barnstorming 60 off 27 balls, with his team nine away from victory, but Gayle continued to do his thing and finished the chase with a straight six. Gayle stayed unbeaten on 62 off 38 balls – his third fifty-plus score in three games this season.
Sunil Narine ran down the track against Mujeeb Zadran’s spin and holed out to deep midwicket in the second over for 1 off four balls. It wasn’t a particularly bad thing for KKR, considering Narine had tried to hit every ball, but it just did not come off today. Mujeeb then ventured wide of the crease and bowled offbreaks as well as the googly to keep Lynn guessing. Uthappa, however, cleared the path for Lynn by dumping the Afghanistan mystery spinner out of the attack. He upset the lengths with three fours behind square, including a reverse sweep, in a 15-run over.
Uthappa kept the scorecard ticking and moved to 24 off 16 balls; by then KKR were 50 for 1 in six overs. Lynn then got stuck into the left-arm pace of Barinder Sran and cracked three boundaries in four balls. The pick of the shots was a front-foot pull – still head and a terrific bat-swing and all that jazz – into the stands beyond midwicket. Just like that things were dandy for Lynn.
Lynn’s strength is to hit the ball in the ‘V’. In an interview with The Cricket Monthly, Lynn said: “My risk versus reward is so much better hitting the ball straight. Even though it’s a bigger boundary, I’d rather do that”. Kings XI’s seamers, though, did not feed him the lengths and angles to go down the ground. So, Lynn cleared his front leg and muscled the ball in the arc between long leg and long-on. No less than 42 of his 74 runs came on the leg side.
It was Ashwin himself who provided the breakthrough for Kings XI when he removed Uthappa for the fifth time in 10 IPL matches. The in-form Nitish Rana then fell for 3 in the next over after a mix-up with Lynn. After conceding 20 runs in his first two overs in the Powerplay, Mujeeb gave away only 12 in his next two overs. Ashwin also kept Lynn quiet, but his Tamil Nadu team-mate Dinesh Karthik was more fluent against him, whipping him for back-to-back fours through midwicket in the 11th over. Ankit Rajpoot’s hard lengths – neither driveable nor pullable – and Andrew Tye’s knuckle balls also contributed to KKR’s slowdown. One such ball had Lynn feathering behind in the 16th over. Sran then nipped out Andre Russell and Karthik in the 17th and the 19th overs to set KKR back further. KKR managed only 45 off the last five overs, but Lynn’s assault at the top meant they still posted 191 for 7.
But that score looked smaller when Rahul and Gayle raised their third successive fifty-plus opening stand. There is a method behind their madness: Rahul’s job is to go after every bowler, while Gayle bides his time and picks his target. The first two balls of Shivam Mavi and Andre Russell were sent to the boundary by Rahul. Gayle, at the other end, was bothered by the early swing and bounce of the 19-year old quick, but won the bout against his West Indies team-mate Russell, again.
Before this match, Gayle had hit 50 runs off 30 balls from Russell in the IPL. He stretched that tally to 71 off 37 balls, before Russell clutched his leg and hobbled off the field, five balls into his second over. Narine then bowled two cheap overs but the wristspinners – Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla – leaked runs at the other end. Rain handed KKR a reprieve in the ninth over, but by then Kings XI were 96 for 0. The tempo did not change after the break. Kings XI now needed 29 off 28 balls, and Gayle bludgeoned a six first ball upon return to bring up a fifty off 28 balls. In the next over, Rahul brought up a fifty of his own with a six, off 24 balls. He, ultimately, picked out deep midwicket, attempting another six, the only blip in an otherwise immaculate chase.