KL Rahul, bowlers lift Punjab Kings to fifth spot

KL Rahul, bowlers lift Punjab Kings to fifth spot

Punjab Kings 168 for 5 (Rahul 67, Agarwal 40, Chakravarthy 2-24) beat Kolkata Knight Riders 165 for 7 (Iyer 67, Tripathi 34, Arshdeep 3-32) by five wickets

Punjab Kings kept their playoff hopes well and truly alive by punishing Kolkata Knight Riders for their off-colour fielding effort. Mayank Agarwal made a quickfire 40 after an early reprieve, KL Rahul anchored the 166 chase with a 55-ball 67 and Shahrukh Khan made an unbeaten 22 in nine balls.

The result ensured that Knight Riders did not break away from the mid-table pack, with only two points separating the four teams between fourth and seventh. It also confirmed Delhi Capitals’ spot in the playoffs as they can no longer finish below fourth.

That the Kings had to overcome only a par total of 165 on a batting-friendly surface was courtesy their death-overs bowling from Mohammed Shami and Arshdeep Singh. After Venkatesh Iyer fell for a 49-ball 67 in the 15th over, Knight Riders could make only 45 runs in 5.2 overs, finishing well short of a total near 180 that they were on course to achieve. The lack of batting time for Knight Riders’ middle and lower-middle order came to the fore as Eoin Morgan and Dinesh Karthik could only make run-a-ball scores of 2 and 11 respectively when the side needed quick runs.

Kings seamers pull things back after Bishnoi burst
After being asked to bat, a 72-run partnership for the second wicket between Iyer and Rahul Tripathi helped the Knight Riders recover from the early Shubman Gill wicket.

The Iyer-Tripathi combo hit 12 fours and two sixes. They took a particular liking to Fabian Allen’s left-arm spin and Nathan Ellis’ assortment of change-ups. Iyer’s power-hitting and Tripathi’s shots over midwicket and point kept Knight Riders’ run rate around eight per over up while they were around.

But it was Ravi Bishnoi, the legspinner on paper with a penchant of bowling more googlies, who dismissed both men. A wrong’un in the 12th over had Tripathi slog-sweeping to deep midwicket and then another slog-sweep from Iyer in the 15th sent him back after his second IPL fifty and his highest score of the tournament.

At the time, the score was 120 for 4 with 32 balls to go. With Nitish Rana in the middle, and Morgan, Karthik, Tim Seifert and Sunil Narine to follow, a minimum of ten runs per over was on. However, Morgan was lbw to a full Shami ball in the 16th over, which went only for four. Arshdeep dismissed the dangerous Rana for 31 in the 18th. Shami then frustrated Karthik and Seifert in the 19th, and Arshdeep’s boundaryless final over, which included his third wicket gave Kings the momentum.

Rahul anchors successfully
With Agarwal back in the XI and finding the boundaries in the opening salvo of the chase, Rahul had the liberty of taking his time. It’s a template he has followed since IPL 2020 with equal doses of praise and criticism. This time, Agarwal’s runs at strike rate of almost 150 allowed Rahul’s scoring rate to briefly slip under the radar. What helped Agarwal to get a solid score on his return to the team was a first-over drop by Morgan when the batter had hit a full ball straight to cover.

However, Rahul had made only 14 in 16 balls in the powerplay, and Agarwal’s dismissal soon after – off Varun Chakravarthy – started to bring back old memories. Nicholas Pooran and Aiden Markram failed to be the aggressive yin to Rahul’s sedate yang and were out for sub-20 scores.

With Rahul running out of batting partners and his strike rate still in the 120s, it appeared like the Kings would miscalculate another chase. But with six overs to go, Rahul finally started looking for big shots. He hit Tim Southee for a six in the 15th over to bring the rate down and then struck two fours off the inexperienced Shivam Mavi in the 19th to bring the equation down to five off the last over.

But Rahul could not see off the chase himself. He was out on the second ball of the final over when his big shot found long-off. A few balls earlier, he had survived a close call for caught after Tripathi slid along the ground in the deep to take a low catch. While the catch appeared fair in real time, the TV umpire adjudicated that the ball had hit the ground.

SRK downs SRK’s team
While Rahul’s innings ensured that there never was a situation when two new batters were at the crease, the team needed a cameo from somewhere to make up for Rahul’s scoring rate.

And it came from the man who was playing his first game of the UAE leg. Left out of the XI when the tournament restarted, Shahrukh replaced Harpreet Brar in the XI for this game and came in at No. 6 with the Kings needing 32 from 21 balls. His first shot was nearly four, cut off only by an acrobatic effort by Seifert at deep point. Then came a hook for six that had enough legs to just about beat Iyer’s effort on the boundary line. A cut in front of square off Southee soon followed, and his three boundary shots took him to 15 off seven balls.

However, it is the final over that worries every Kings fan. After too many close defeats over the last two seasons, the game was still not in their bag entering the 20th, more so when Rahul was out with them still needing four from four balls.

But Shahrukh was not going to take it down to the last ball. Mavi went length, Shahrukh slogged to deep midwicket, Tripathi failed to take the catch, the ball popped over the skirting for six, and the Kings took home the two points.

Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @sreshthx