Gayle, Mandeep power Punjab to easy victory
KL Rahul is in the form of his young life, topping the IPL run-charts and also leading Kings XI Punjab’s resurrection from the dead this season. But he would’ve been glad to receive an added dose of motivation during the mid-innings break on Monday, having been named in all three India squads for the upcoming tour of Australia. Not just that; he is now Virat Kohli’s vice-captain in the shorter formats and the lone wicketkeeper in the ODI team.
All that information would’ve been received by Rahul after he restricted Kolkata Knight Riders to just 149 in the first innings of a game in the otherwise high-scoring venue of Sharjah. And all of that possibly played a role in Rahul and his opening partner Mandeep Singh giving KXIP a strong start of 49 runs. Until, against the run of play, Rahul was dismissed leg-before by Varun Chakravarthy—the spinner too having learned of his maiden call-up to the Indian T20I team.
The scales immediately shifted towards KKR after a quiet ninth over, bowled by Sunil Narine, and due to the presence of two relatively unused KXIP players at the crease. Both Mandeep and Chris Gayle had played just four games each in this topsy-turvy Punjab campaign. But there’s a reason why Rahul’s side had won four games on the bounce before Monday—the entire squad had begun to shoulder the burden of the turnaround. Today it was Mandeep’s turn to put his hand up. A ferociously talented player who hasn’t quite lived up to his promise—he played the last of his three T20Is back in 2016—Mandeep made amends with his first fifty of the season (66*), aided by a terrific display of pulls and heaves that he targeted over the midwicket boundary. It would’ve been the talking point of the night, if Gayle hadn’t blazed his way to his thirtieth IPL fifty.
Sharjah is a small ground and Gayle has a big bat. That combination provided five lethal blows over the fence for Gayle and five wins in a row for Punjab, this one achieved by eight wickets. It propelled Punjab to fourth on the table at a decisive hour, replacing KKR from the position no less. KKR’s batting experience was nothing short of a one-innings rollercoaster. Reduced to 10 for three by the end of the second over, Eoin Morgan’s side looked like they would struggle to get to three figures. But a great counterattack by Morgan and opener Shubman Gill ensured that the 100-run mark was nearly breached by the 10th over. This was Sharjah after all and the momentum of flowing runs is hard to break.
At 91 for three with a couple of Ravi Bishnoi balls to be bowled to reach the halfway mark of the innings, KKR now looked good for 200 or thereabouts. But Morgan holed out in the deep and just 21 runs were added in the next six overs as KXIP’s spinners choked KKR for runs. This was achieved by Bishnoi and Murugan Ashwin by wiping out the entire KKR middle-order between them and also by keeping Gill off strike.
Between overs 10 and 16, Gill faced just nine balls. Batting on 51 with four overs to go, Gill didn’t have a second rescue act in him. He looked rather dejected when he walked back to the dressing room in the penultimate over for a score of 57 and KKR were nearly bowled out in getting to their eventual total.