A roller-coaster ride of a match just seems to be around the corner when Kings XI Punjab are in action. After their thrilling super over loss against Delhi Capitals a week ago, the side had to endure a heart-breaking debacle against Rajasthan Royals, who chase down IPL’s highest-ever target of 223 runs in Sharjah on Sunday.
The tie was dominated by a splendid 106 runs off 50 in the first innings by Mayank Agarwal, and was aptly matched by Sanju Samson’s another firework-filled 85 off 42. Special mentions also went to the two skippers – RR’s Steve Smith (50 off 27) and KL Rahul (69 off 54) — who contributed with a quickfire innings as well on a flat track of Sharjah. But all that was dwarfed by Rahul Tewatia (53 off 31), who smashed 5 sixes in an over at a time when odds were stacked against them. WI pacer Sheldon Cottrell was on the receiving end of the blitzkrieg as his over quickly saw the required target 51 runs off 24 balls diminish to mere 21 in 18 balls.
Jofra Archer (13 off 3) took care of the remaining runs as RR accomplished the unthinkable feat with three balls to spare in the four-wicket win.
Chasing 224, RR has to suffer an early setback in England star Jos Buttler, who came into the tournament with a lot of hype given his recent exploits at the top-level. But being just out of the quarantine, Buttler could only manage 4 runs out of his short stay as despite making a strong connection with the bat he managed Sarfaraz Khan on the on-side, who somehow grabbed on to it to pacer Sheldon Cottrell’s relief.
However that relief was short-lived with Sanju Samson next in at no.3 With the kind of form Sanju Samson has earlier produced on this very ground, the right-hander started off his innings with a six and a four to bring the pace to the chase.
It almost was a mirror image of what Rahul and Mayank did earlier for KXIP as RR reached 69 runs by the end of the powerplay, producing some clean knocks from both the batsmen. The hammering post the powerplays as RR reached 100 and Smith his 50 but at the cost of the skipper losing his wicket on the last ball of the over to Neesham. To Smith’s fault, he shuffled his bat too early into the delivery, edging it to Shami at deep cover.
However, wickets were a tough purchase on this pitch and KXIP got a good sense of that with Sanju, who soon crossed 50 as well, still in the middle. It became a one-man show from hereon as next seven overs saw 61 runs with the right-hander scoring 44 of them t. Rahul Tewatia was the silent partner in the other end but that had its impact as the run rate kept climbing. Needing 63 runs off 21, Samson tried to play Shami fine but a clever slow delivery saw the batsman nick it to Rahul behind the stumps.
While the hopes were on an experienced Robin Uthappa (9 off 4) to take the side home, it was Tewatia who joined the party and it was one over against Cottrell that it took him to take the game away from KXIP.
Earlier, RR skipper Steve Smith’s decision to bowl first backfired before the pink-clad team could realise it. A combination of two in-form KXIP openers, along with a flat track of Sharjah that offered nothing to bowlers, the writing was on the wall from the word go. Rahul and Mayank took a good measure of the Royals pacers that was led by Jofra Archer and to no one’s surprise, KXIP were sitting at 60/0 at the end of the powerplay.
Smith turned to his last match bowling star Rahul Tewatia for assistance once the fielding restrictions were lifted. However, that brought no respite as a settled Mayank was in no mood to let Tewatia do his magic as he thwacked the leg spinner for two huge sixes and a boundary to unsettle his line and length.
This set the tone for Mayank, who soon reached his 50, further as he took charge of the innings and he smashed 28 off 34 KXIP runs in the next three overs to take the side to 120 at the end of 11th over. One could read the sign of worry in Smith’s face, who had already used six bowlers in a desperate attempt to find a breakthrough.
Rahul, on the other end, decided to exert his presence as he shot a six and a four to reach his 17th IPL 50 by the end of 12th over.
The next three overs fetched 34 runs with no respite on the offer for Royals, who were too afraid to look at the total that read a whopping 172/0 at the end of 15th over as Mayank pulled it over the cover for his maiden IPL century.
By the time Mayank’s (106 off 50) wicket fell in the 17th over, thanks to Tom Curran’s slow delivery that landed safely in hands of Sanju Samson over mid-wicket, it brought forth the biggest opening wicket stand in IPL at 183 (off 16.3 overs).
Rahul’s innings (69 off 54) came to an end in the next over after he edged Rajpoot’s delivery to Shreyas Gopal at third man.
No.3 Glenn Maxwell (13 off 9) and Nicholas Pooran (25 off 8) ensured that the run flow didn’t stop as the duo smashed 3 sixes and as many boundaries between them to take KXIP to 223/2 at the end of the innings.