The fortress finally fell but did Kings XI Punjab win fairly against Rajasthan Royals?
That is going to be debated long after the curtain comes down on the 12th edition of IPL in another seven weeks. Kings beat the host by 14 runs — their first ever win at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, where the Royals had never lost an opening fixture — but this game will forever be remembered for the way R. Ashwin ran Jos Buttler out.
The dashing opener was at the non-striking end and was out of his crease when the Kings captain, who was bowling the 13th over, knocked the bails off. The England batsman was looking in ominous touch at the time and seemed he would take his side home.
The Royals never could recover from the shock dismissal of Buttler (69, 43b, 10×4, 2×6). Their batsmen tried ambitious shots when a calm mind was required and lost seven wickets in 17 balls. From 148 for two, they slumped to 164 for nine, as Sam Curran and Mujeeb Ur Rahman kept their cool while bowling. The duo was backed up by some fine fielding as well.
Earlier, another masterly knock from Chris Gayle was largely responsible for Punjab posting a challenging score of 184 for four wickets. After a sedate start, he began to resemble the Gayle the world loves and bowlers fear. He took the home attack apart to make 79 off 47 balls.
Credit is also due to a splendid Sarfaraz Khan — formerly of Royal Challengers Bangalore — who made his maiden appearance for his new franchise count. His 46 not out off 29 balls not just ensured that his team ended with a run-rate of above nine, but it was a personal milestone for him too: it became his best score in IPL.
When Sarfaraz arrived to bat — at the fall of the second wicket in the form of Mayank Agarwal — things were not exactly looking rosy for the Kings. The PowerPlay had yielded only 32 and the scoring rate hadn’t improved much, but Sarfaraz’s third wicket partnership of 84 with Gayle turned the innings around.
The West Indian, who came in to this match after scoring 424 runs from four completed ODIs against England, was hitting so hard that even an outside edge off Ben Stokes went for six. In the 12th over, bowled by Jayadev Unadkat, he slammed the first four balls for boundaries and then hit the fifth straight for a six.
Unadkat was like what he was at the auction: expensive. The left-arm seamer’s three overs cost him 44 runs. Jofra Archer, who bowled fast and straight, impressed yet again though, giving away 17 from his four overs.