Tonight’s match presented an interesting contest at Sharjah. RCB is flying high, for the first time, since the initial half of the tournament. For the first time, in the history of IPL, RCB victories have not been about Virat Kohli or ABD. Time and again, Saini, Siraj, Chahal, Morris, Finch, and Paddikal have stepped up to create a bright smile on the captain’s face from time to time. On the other hand, there is KXIP, who seems to have an eerie similarity with old RCB. Much like, RCB in previous seasons had been about ABD and Virat, KXIP has been about Mayank and Rahul. Flashes of brilliance have been exuded by KL Rahul’s team but they have lost crucial moments in the match, to be the wooden spoon holders in t his IPL.

RCB won the toss and chose to bat on a pitch, that has shown signs of slowing up in past matches. Paddikal and Finch once again gave a good solid start to RCB. It may seem at the outset that both Paddikal and Finch are not playing the long inning, but on the contrary, they are preventing RCB from being 10-2 in the 3rd over- something that had haunted them in past editions of IPL. Tonight, as well, both Paddikal and Finch scored roundabout 20, turning the strike over and hitting the odd boundary to good effect.

Arshdeep has impressed in his brief IPL career till now and it was great to see, Rahul using Shami and Arshdeep in the powerplay. Arshdeep accounted for the impressive Paddikal as KXIP made their first breakthrough in the 5th over. I personally believe the idea to bowl Bishnoi in the powerplay was not particularly right, as he needs the cushion of additional fielders in the boundary to be effective. I hope, captain KL rectifies it in subsequent matches.

An in-form Virat Kohli is one, you can bank on, in these sorts of sticky pitches. I have always felt, that the most impressive part about Kohli and Williamson is that, even on their bad days you get the 30s and 40s from them. Kohli was not timing the ball tonight, as well as he did in the past couple of matches. But that did not hinder him from picking up singles or doubles between the wicket. In an extremely well-crafted inning of 48, he scored only 3 boundaries! Combine 36 runs scored in singles and doubles with the dry heat of Dubai and you see how the arduous hours put in the gym by Kohli yields superhuman benefits.

Murugan Ashwin bowled very good lengths today. He is a consistent performer at Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and Vijay Hazare trophy. It was good to see him successfully performing against top international batsmen as well. Murugan bowled the googlies well, as for the first time I saw his googlies turning by a fair magnitude. For a long time, his googlies were the ones that went straight on to the batsmen. It looks, he has worked on his wrong’un under the mentorship of Kumble. Tonight he accounted for Finch off a leg break and Sundar off a googly.

The decision to hold back De Villiers till the end overs backfired for Kohli. There will be huge criticism about this strategy, but I think this was not due to De Villiers’ weakness against leg-spin. It was more due to the other factor- Sundar and Dube with their natural left hander’s arc were expected to take the attack to Bishnoi and Ashwin, which they failed to do. It is one of those plans, that would bring you laurels if they succeed and bring you loads of criticisms if it doesn’t.

Finally, Morris and Udana played a blinder to take Shami for 24 off the last over. Thus taking the score to a very competitive 171 from 20 overs. Kohli scored a good 48 to hold the inning together. Death bowling concerns continue to be the weak link for the franchise as Moriss today took Shami to the cleaners in the final over.

KL Rahul took a very important decision to start the 2nd inning. The only thing going right for KXIP in this tournament was their opening combo. He did not change the combo, in spite of the presence of Gayle in the lining up. I appreciate the fact of how Mayank and Rahul stuck to their game, in spite of huge criticism about Rahul’s slow approach in the last match.

Tonight Rahul and Mayank fired all cylinders against a misplaced RCB bowling attack. It was a bad day on the field for Captain Kohli. In spite of the tremendous success of Washington Sundar in the powerplay, inexplicably he was not handed the ball inside the powerplay. The decision was taken primarily because of Mayank’s extraordinary record against fingerspin. But I believe, it is extremely important to have trust in your premiere spinner, who has been so consistent all over IPL, this season.

Sundar lost rhythm and went for 38 runs in his 4 overs tonight. Mayank took Chahal to the cleaners in the powerplay and raced to a brisk 45 off 25 deliveries. Finally, Chahal picked up his man, with a leg break, that Mayank edged top long-on. Here is where the universe boss came in.

Chris Gayle ensured that there was no nervy collapse after Mayank’s departure. He played an extremely matured inning, playing low-risk shots and only punishing the bad balls over the boundary. Both Rahul and Gayle scored their individual 50s to take their team to victory. Rahul has been scoring consistently throughout the tournament and this time it was for a winning cause.

At the outset, both Gayle and Rahul’s inning may look slow. But at the end of the day, on a slow sticky pitch with the old softball, both their innings exuded brilliance from the word go. KXIP will hope that the arrival of the Universe boss in the playing 11 will boost their chances of a playoff miracle going forward.