KXIP vs RCB was much more than a league match. There was a bit of a story associated with this context. KL Rahul in his formative years of IPL had been mentored by Virat Kohli. Rahul’s first stint in the IPL came with Sunrisers Hyderabad, which was a pretty unsuccessful one. He got drafted to Bangalore and Kohli gave him the responsibility to bat in the top 4, allowing him to succeed at the top of the order. Then, in one of the many blunders of RCB in the auction, they let Rahul go to KXIP. KL performed exceptionally for Punjab for the next 2 years and was finally handed the mettle of leadership. So, its KL going up against his mentor Kohli, for the first time, as an opposition leader.
RCB won the toss and chose to field, which turned to be a blessing in disguise for Kings XI. KL Rahul was a bit rusty last match, with his slow footwork and delayed reaction on short deliveries. Having batted second, the scoreboard pressure got to him and he perished early in the pursuit of the target. However, today, owing to losing the toss, captain KL came out to bat with no pressure on his mind. He took his time initially at a strike rate of 120-130, to settle himself into the match environment. The rust was still there at the beginning of the innings and at times, he was slow to react to both Saini and Umesh.
Instead of feeling the pressure, he ran hard between the wickets, kept the scoreboard ticking alongside Mayank. They forged an excellent half-century partnership, after which Mayank was dismissed by the wily Chahal. It is evident now, that Chahal has worked on his googly in the lockdown, as deceiving players like Mayank and Vijay Shankar with the googly is no mean feat. Chahal enhancing his bowling arsenal is indeed excellent news for Indian cricket.
Kudos to KL Rahul for his captaincy here. Nicholas Pooran scored 2 ducks in the last match. But Rahul believed that he is a gun player and backed him to bat at 3 today. This is what great captains do-back their best players to bat higher up the order and face the maximum deliveries, even if they are out of form. (DK take a note here) Pooran did not score much, but he forged a very important partnership with Rahul in the middle overs. Also, Pooran was seen to be adjusting to the pace of the UAE pitch, it is given that, sooner or later he will repay his captain’s trust in him big time.
However, that being said, the Punjab innings was the KL Rahul show. Pooran, Maxwell, and Nair sneaked in with cameos but it was increasingly about King KL. Having made a slow start, by his standards, he reached his half-century and slowly started opening up post the 17th over. It is such a satisfying thing to see KL time the ball. Gradually his beautiful aerial whips over mid-wicket came back- one of his signature shots that he was unable to time in the last match. The six over extra cover was the official sign that the KXIP captain has got back his pre-lockdown exquisite form with the bat. Rahul scored a serene century, perhaps one that will go down in IPL history, as one of the best innings.
RCB paid dearly for their long-standing death bowling woes. In the last match, they did not have a set SRH batsman going into the death overs and that’s why it was not much of a challenge for Saini and Steyn. However, today KL ensured that the weak death bowling of RCB is exploited to good effect, as he launched Steyn, Dube, and Saini all over the ground. Fielders also have bad days and hence, RCB fans-don’t read much into the 2 Kohli drop catches.
It is fair to say that RCB lost the match in the first 3 overs. In a chase over 200, Virat Kohli has to fire. There is no second thought about that. Yes, De Villiers is a legend in his own right, but his powers are waning and he simply doesn’t have the tenacity to anchor a 200 run chase for his side. So, the key wicket for Punjab was always Virat’s and he was removed in the 3rd over itself, courtesy an impatient pull from the champion batsman. This was much similar to his dismissal in the 2015 WC semifinal, which was another high-pressure chase for India.
There is indeed not much to talk about RCB batting today. Once, they were 6 for 3, their body language displayed that they were just playing to reduce the margin for defeat.
RCB is already going through some serious selection woes. The issues were there in the last match as well, but SRH’s horrific selection issues ensured that RCB’s weakness was never detected. Without being too harsh it can be said, Joshua Philipe is a waste of a player in these slow low UAE pitches. Yes, it has only been 2 matches, but Philipe has clearly shown signs of uneasiness in the times he has spent on the crease. There are 2 options to counter that. Either Kohli brings in Moeen Ali, who is a much better batsman in these conditions, and gives RCB an extra bowling option as well. The other option is that RCB bring in Parthiv Patel to replace Phillipe and solve their death bowling issues by selecting Isuru Udana instead of Umesh. The left-hander, with his off cutters, can be a potent option on these slowish tracks.
Since there is not much to talk about RCB’s batting, KXIP’s bowling is a good point to discuss. Young Bishnoi is improving by the day and it will be no surprise if he becomes a contender for the Emerging Player of the Tournament award. Foxing batsmen like Finch is a proud moment for any young spinner and Bishnoi has shown that he can pick up big wickets like his. Sheldon Cottrell bowled much better length in the powerplay, today and KL will be a very happy leader if Shami and Cottrell both strike form like today, going forward.
There are some issues with KXIP selection as well. Just like RCB’s mistakes were overshadowed by SRH last night, KXIp’s mistakes were superseded by RCB tonight. Rahul’s men still do not have a death bowler at their disposal. Neesham is not a bowler, you can bank on, either in the death or in the powerplay. Cottrell and Shami are the dedicated powerplay bowlers and Cottrell proved to be expensive at the death. At some point in time, Muyjeeb ur Rahman needs to come in place of Neesham, to become that potent powerplay bowling option and free up Shami for the death. I hope, Kumble and Rahul make that change to the team, before they repent their mistake.