Kings XI Punjab, slow starters in this IPL, broke through into the top half of the points table with what should have been a comfortable win over Royal Challengers Bangalore, who fell significantly short of the formidable target they looked good to set. Kings XI scaled down 159 amid some late panic that produced three run-outs, taking the game to the penultimate ball when it deserved a swifter ending.
The platform for a successful chase was laid by youngsters Mandeep Singh and Nitin Saini, who batted assuredly, and stand-in captain David Hussey took them close with a fiery cameo. In the end, Piyush Chawla‘s match-sealing six apart, Kings XI’s bowlers made the difference, with Praveen Kumar’s excellent opening spell and Azhar Mahmood‘s economy at the death combining to undermine another Chris Gayle special and Virat Kohli‘s return to form.
Kings XI had no business losing with 13 needed off the last four overs. Not even after Saini fell trying to finish things off, miscuing a catch after scoring a half-century. Just one run came off the 17th over, and Mahmood was caught short in the next by an accurate throw from KP Appanna in the deep. Hussey followed when six were needed off nine, his dive to complete a second run beaten by AB de Villiers‘ superb collection of a throw on the half-volley. Abhishek Nayar went next ball, trying an impossible run.
Vinay Kumar brought it down to five off four in the final over, and the game was on a knife’s edge with two needed off two. Then came a length ball, allowing Chawla to free his arms, and he thrashed Vinay over deep midwicket. It brought up Kings XI’s fourth away win of the season, they’ve won five in all.
The manic end almost undid an impressive show by Kings XI’s two upcoming talents. Mandeep was occasionally scratchy but delivered the start his team needed, timing the ball beautifully and even displaying some spunk against the accomplished bowling of Zaheer Khan. He pulled over midwicket and whipped over square leg for six, and slashed Vinay through point. He took the lead in the chase, over the more experienced Shaun Marsh, and Saini consolidated the good start.
Saini was less attacking but batted with maturity, picking off the singles and twos comfortably, interspersed with some lovely strokeplay of his own. He drove Andrew McDonald beautifully down the ground, cut well against medium pace and spin, and marched close to his half-century with a confident pull off Zaheer. Saini didn’t feel the urgency to open up, his job made easier by Hussey, who smashed the left-arm spin of Appanna for two massive sixes before delivering the same treatment to Asad Pathan. By then, the pair had added 73 in 43 balls and the game was as good as over. Or so we thought.
The batting backed up a superior show with the ball by Kings XI. Praveen, who conceded just eight off his four overs, the most economical spell this season, was the beneficiary of some early swing after his team chose to field. Though he went wicketless, the batsmen had few answers against his exploitation of the conditions, which included good bounce. Praveen beat the bat often, squaring up Gayle, troubling Kohli with outswing, forcing the batsmen to look for an opening at the other end while playing him with caution.
Having conceded just 48 off the first nine overs, Kings XI were ahead but the introduction of spin and stark decline in the quality of bowling sparked a turn in the tide. Gayle and Kohli feasted on Piyush Chawla’s long hops, collecting 11 off his first over, and then launching him for a six each in his next. Gayle – who was dropped on 39 – then targeted an erratic Parvinder Awana, taking 19 in an over that included a powerful, flat six over long-on. The pair tore into length balls from Abhishek Nayar the next over, dispatching them over the fence, and five overs had suddenly yielded 68 runs. Just as Royal Challengers looked set for a commanding score, the momentum changed hands again.
Gayle holed out in the deep against Mahmood, Kohli was done in by a skidder from Chawla – the two had added 119 – and the batsmen who followed weren’t able to bat as freely. Andrew McDonald and de Villiers targeted Awana for 14 in an over but fell in a space off three deliveries in the final over from Mahmood, who conceded only four off it. He varied his pace, surprised the batsmen with the short ball and was on target with his yorkers, ensuring Kings XI walked back satisfied with the hope of chasing a gettable total.
Siddhartha Talya is a sub editor at ESPNcricinfo