One night, two matches, two captains scored their "game-changing" half-century but while one ended in a defeat, the other stood out as the sole difference in the game. KL Rahul and Virat Kohli led from the front to score 74 and an unbeaten 90 respectively on Saturday night in the UAE. Rahul's knock came against Kolkata Knight Riders at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, and Kohli's was against Chennai Super Kings in Dubai. But while Kohli's superbly paced 52-ball knock helped RCB script their biggest win against CSK in IPL history, Rahul's yet another slow-paced knock left the Kings two runs short of the target.
It has been a set template for Kings XI this season. Despite having two in-form openers, both standing at the top of the Orange Cap table, Mayank Agarwal takes on the opposition attack with free arms while Rahul drops anchor throughout his stay.
For the fourth time in seven games, KXIP went without losing a wicket in the powerplays, scoring 47 runs. Both batters were scoring at equal rate thereafter before Mayank took off in the 11th over with a couple of boundaries off Kamlesh Nagarkoti and the one off Varun Chakravarthy in the next. But KXIP lost Mayank in the 15th over with the equation standing 50 off 35 balls. Nicholas Pooran, the next batsman in, took over the roleof aggressor as Rahul continued as anchor. The Windies batsman added 16 runs to the boad off 10 balls with two boundaries and a six to bring down the equation to 21 off 17 before departing in the 18th over.
With Rahul set on 71 off 55, it was most expected for the KXIP captain to take charge given his impressive scoring rate in the death overs as IPL 2020 had earlier witnessed in the game against RCB. But Rahul played only three more balls after Pooran's dismissal the last one resulting in his dismissal. KXIP eventually fell two runs short.
While many have questioned the baffling decision to send Prabh Simran Singh ahead of Glenn Maxwell, Rahul's sluggish knock once again came under the radar. He scored 26 off 20 in the powerplays with a scoring rate of 7.8 which fell to 7.07 in the middle overs. His knock also included just six boundaries and 14 dot balls.
Kohli, on the other hand, played an arguably perfect T20 knock. After the early loss of Aaron Finch, he and Devdutt Padikkal stabilised the innings with their 53-run stand before successive dismissals saw RCB falter to 67 for three in the 11th over. He then combined to weave another 26-run stand alongside Washington Sundar. Kohli eventually reached his 38th IPL fifty in the 39 balls with a four pulled on the leg side off Shardul Thakur in the 18th over. RCB were still on 117 for four with three overs remaining and from thereon Kohli picked up a superb pace.
He smashed three sixes and a boundary in the final three overs against Sam Curran, Dwayne Bravo and Shadul Thakur. Two sixes came against Curran - one whipped over long-on and the other flicked over deep square leg fence. The third six was against Thakur, lofted through the line straight back over. In the final over, Bravo and Dhoni looked to outsmart Kohli with a widish overpitched ball, but it was Kohli who had the last laugh. He shuffled across and played an uncharacteristic, De Villiers-esque scoop behind fine leg for a boundary. Bravo then looked to turn towards his arsenal of variations, but the RCB skipper still managed to add nine more runs off the final five balls to give RCB a strong finish.
Kohli scored at just over seven runs an over in his first 48 balls, but went one more than double the rate in the slog overs, scoring 48 off the 19 balls he faced in the phase. What was even more impressive about his knock was that he did not face a single dot ball in the last 25 deliveries he faced.
"It's about understanding the conditions and respecting the game. Instead of trying to hit every ball into the second tier of the stadium. Having played so much cricket, especially T20 cricket, I have learnt that if you are set at the death, you can capitalize," Kohli explained when asked aboyt his knock after the win against CSK. "If you think too much about responsibility, you get burdened. That Super Over where I had to strike, else we would have lost, freed me up."
Rahul can truly take a leaf out of Kohli's method of acceleration, the lack of which in his knocks this season has not just drawn flak, it had overburdened KXIPS' middle order with the task to take the team to a respectable total.