Both sides in today’s match up came with big batting lineups - where the Kings XI Punjab had Chris Gayle, KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and Nicholas Pooran further down the order, Rajasthan had Rahane, Jos Buttler, and former Australian skipper Steve Smith. Adding to the stats today was the fact that Rajasthan had never lost to the Kings XI Punjab at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium - an unassailable fortress for them, at least against this opposition.
The Kings were always gunning for a big score. The R. Ashwin-led side were always going to have Gayle steer their batting ship, and with KL Rahul expected to fire early on but getting out cheaply, it was up to Mayank Agarwal and Chris Gayle to steady the ship - and fire quick. The Kings were slow to start in the power play, and at just over 6.4RPO, were under their own average of 7.75. But once Gayle got going, he was unstoppable. Hitting every length all over the ground for his 79 off 47 deliveries, the Jamaican looked unassailable against both pace and spin. He took a particular liking to Jaidev Unadkat tonight, and although spinner Krishnappa Gowtham was expected to stem the flow of runs from Gayle’s bat, he too suffered the wrath of the phenomenal form Gayle was in. With young Indian talent Sarfaraz Khan following suit, the Kings XI Punjab lineup - almost entirely a former RCB batting lineup, looked in good form. One might argue they could have gone 20 runs over their ____ total had Rahul batted, or Agarwal stayed on, but in the end, that proved to be of no consequence.
Safaraz, with his unbeaten 46 off 29 deliveries, proved to be an excellent judge of line and length through the match, and on his first showing for the Kings, the 21-year-old more than proved his mettle. Perhaps the only bowler who really performed for the Royals was their new recruit, English pacer Jofra Archer, who went at an economical 4.25 runs per over off his spell.
Jos Buttler was always expected to fire at today’s match, and indeed, it was the Englishman’s fourth consecutive 50 against the Kings XI Punjab at the IPL. Firmly in the driver’s seat and striking at 160, Buttler spearheaded the home side’s batting, and until the first 13 overs , Rajasthan were at 108/1 (at 12.4o). That one ball proved to be the turning point of the match, and one that will doubtless be talked about in the days and weeks to come. It would not be remiss to say that Buttler’s dismissal turned the match on its head and completely derailed the Rajasthan return, but the manner in which it was done earned the ire of several - former cricketers, fans, casual watchers and others. Visiting skipper Ravichandran Ashwin mankaded Jos Buttler with no warning, which while strictly legal under the rules of the game, is considered entirely unsportsmanlike behaviour.
Until Buttler was at the crease, Rajasthan were cruising at a comfortable 8.8 runs an over; following the mankading, the side collapsed on itself, losing 8 wickets for only 62 runs courtesy some phenomenal death bowling by Mohammed Shami, who went for a number of boundaries in his earlier spell. Also pitching in for the Kings was debutant Sam Curran, who last year was named one of the ICC’s “eight cricketers to watch in 2019”. Picking up the prized scalps of Sanju Samson and Steve Smith, Curran, who was brought on for an absent Andrew Tye - the highest wicket-taker at the 2018 IPL, proved a worthy replacement from the get go.
If you had asked someone to predict the result of this game even 60% of the way through, it could have gone either way. But this match in particular ended up being a roller-coaster ride filled with drama, some stellar performances, and some less-than-stellar moments that will most certainly be talked about for some time to come.