After a slow start, Rahul raced to a fifty while Tripathi couldn’t accelerate at a crucial juncture of the game © AFP
It was a strange sort of a day for the Rahuls in the camps of Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals. The 86 minutes that KL Rahul spent at the crease yielded him 52 runs, but it came off as many as 47 deliveries. Rahul Tripathi‘s stay nearly mirrored that of the Kings XI opener, with the Royals batsman’s stay for 73 minutes getting him a 50 off 45 balls. While those were the similarities, the path that led them to their scores were different, and what happened around them while they batted turned out to be the difference in the eventual outcome of the game – a crucial 12-run victory for the Kings XI which helped them move back into the top half of the table.
As has been the case with Rahul this season, he was again slow to start off with. In the powerplay he managed only 4 off 13 deliveries, reached 13 off 23 deliveries at the halfway mark of the innings, and took until his 28th and 33rd ball for his first four and six respectively. Tripathi, on the other hand, was busier than Rahul in the first six overs, scoring 20 off 15 with the help of two fours, and had added two more boundaries to his tally by the time the 13th over was completed – an over after Rahul had managed his first boundary.
Kings XI, at the end of the 12th over, had only managed 97 while the Royals were more comfortably placed with 12 additional runs. The period that followed, however, was in complete contrast as Kings XI managed to set the pace leading up to the death overs while the Royals struggled to keep up with the required rate and left it too late. From 25 off 32, Rahul managed to race to a fifty as he scored his next 25 off 13 deliveries. Tripathi’s first IPL fifty of this season came off 43 deliveries but the problem was he took 10 deliveries to move from 39 to 50, with his last 24 runs coming off 25 balls.
Kings XI’s progress was aided by the presence of David Miller, who came in as a last minute replacement after Moises Henriques picked up an injury soon after being handed his cap. Miller’s contribution in the 85-run partnership was 34 off 23 while Rahul – who at that stage was starting to accelerate – contributed 45 off 29 which set up Kings XI nicely for the death overs dash. What also mattered a lot for the hosts was the cameo from their skipper, who belted 17 off the last over which was bowled by Dhawal Kulkarni, including two successive sixes to boost Kings XI’s total to 182.
“At that time we just needed to build the partnership but in T20 you don’t get much time. So just needed to be busy, be quite clever with the big boundaries. So we just took it to the timeout – I think it was the 13th or the 14th over – and after that we decided we got to go. We tried to take one or two balls per over to be risky (in terms of shot-making); at that stage we had eight wickets in hand,” said Miller, who also praised R Ashwin’s batting effort. “I think we were a little under pressure going into the last over. Ashwin came and hit 15 (17) in the over. That definitely helped us take some momentum into our bowling performance.”
Meanwhile, the Royals coach Paddy Upton felt that the bowlers erred in their execution in the latter half. “There were a few executions where we just got it wrong, we got into the wrong areas. Probably we gave away five boundaries more than what we should have. There were a little bit of freebies rather than making the batsman really work for them. I’d probably say it was a 170-par wicket and maybe we gave two, three boundaries too many,” said the Royals coach Paddy Upton when asked for his assessment of the bowling performance.
While Jofra Archer yet again did a good job with the ball, conceding only 15 runs off his four overs while picking up three wickets, expensive outings for Jaydev Unadkat and Dhawal Kulkarni aided Kings XI’s cause. “It’s just some fine tuning and this is a really tough game for the bowlers, let’s make no bones about that. if we talk about yorkers, we’ve seen in this entire tournament (that) not many bowlers are regularly nailing the yorkers – because it’s a very difficult ball and the way batsmen are moving around their crease, they’re putting a lot of pressure back on bowlers. But as I said, we have a little bit of room for fine-tuning both our strategy and execution,” said Upton.
During the chase, Rahane and Tripathi – who also got together for the third wicket – contributed only 30 runs between them with both consuming 13 deliveries apiece. After the 13th over, there was a dry spell which the Royals had to endure due to some tight bowling from the Ashwin pair, as they failed to score a single boundary till the mid of the 18th over. Stuart Binny struck a valiant 33 off 11 but his assault couldn’t prevent the Royals from slipping to their sixth loss in eight games.
“You’re right in your assessment there from the 14th over the two Ashwins bowled really nicely. Obviously with experience on this field, they set really nice fields to us and although the batsmen did attack, they didn’t get to find the gaps and find the boundaries. That is probably the place where the advantage swung from our favour back into Kings XI’s favour,” said the Royals coach.
Miller also reflected on the aspect of the boundary dimensions and how Kings XI used it well. “We tried to use the big side of the boundary to our advantage. Both Ashwins bowled extremely well, They kept us in the game in that little period. And obviously they needed 50 odd in the last three overs. We just needed to knock of the next seven or eight balls and the game is done. They did their job and we’re really happy with that. I thought it was a really good team performance all round. The fielding was great, good catches in the boundary, guys put up their hand with bat and ball.”
There wasn’t much separating the two teams at the half-way mark of their respective innings. But the way Kings XI managed to turn it around in the second half – with both the bat and the ball – is something that the Royals could learn. Inculcating that could give them some solace in the latter half of their campaign, which has been squandered so far through several missed opportunities.