Kings XI Punjab 155 for 4 (Rahul 84*) beat Rajasthan Royals 152 for 9 (Buttler 51, Mujeeb 3-27) by six wickets
Given the short dimensions of the Holkar Stadium, the plausibility of dew impacting spinners in the second innings and the favourable chasing trend this IPL season, Kings XI Punjab had to win two key phases in the game: the toss and their bowling performance. And they did both. R Ashwin chose to chase and the bowlers, led by Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Andrew Tye, stifled Rajasthan Royals to 152, a score well below par in Indore.
Although Royals put in a spirited bowling performance of their own, KL Rahul expertly switched gears to finish with a match-winning 84 off 54 balls, his highest IPL score, to push Kings XI to third on the points table. Royals, with five losses in their last six games, retained their spot at the bottom of the points table.
A slow Powerplay
As an opener in the IPL, Buttler has an average of 30.80 and a strike-rate of 167. At any other position, he has an average of 22.10 and a strike-rate of 134.40. He also scored a 26-ball 67 against Delhi Daredevils opening in the previous game. Also, Royals’ average Powerplay score prior to this game, fifth in the IPL. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising that Royals promoted Buttler to open.
Royals were desperate for a strong start, but D’Arcy Short and Ajinkya Rahane hadn’t quite found their fluency this season. In the first over, Short skewed a heave to mid-on. In the fourth over, Rahane top-edged a cut to short third man. At 35 for 2, with a fragile middle order, Royals had lost a crucial Powerplay battle against Kings XI’s spinners.
A stuttering middle …
Sanju Samson, batting at No. 4, and Buttler put Royals back on course with a 49-run partnership. Then, Royals lost another key duel: Samson was bounced out, Stokes was dismissed via a magnificent relay catch by Mayank Agarwal and Manoj Tiwary, Buttler nicked off to Mujeeb and, one ball later, Jofra Archer was bowled, beaten between bat and pad.
Overall, Royals managed just 65 runs in nine overs after the Powerplay and entered the death overs – the final five of an innings – at 110 for 6. The lower order was scrapping for a score they could defend, which meant they lost another phase in the game.
… and a sub-par end
Prior to this game, Royals scored an average of 10.10 runs an over in the back end, equating to an average of 50.5 runs. At Holkar Stadium, Royals needed plenty more than that, but they were bare of batting resources in that period.
The lower order added just 42 runs in the final five overs and they finished with 152, which was below the average score at this ground of 188 in T20Is and the IPL since 2015. Royals lost all three phases in their innings, which meant the game was all but done.
Gearing for the end
At this stadium, bowling is the harder art and Royals took on the challenge gamely. First, Archer generated speeds in excess of 145 kph in a riveting battle against Chris Gayle. Archer was hit for two fours before Gayle nailed an uppish cut to point. Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair and Axar Patel were also dismissed in a disciplined spell from Royals in the first 13 overs.
At the other end, Rahul was forced to re-evaluate his tempo. At one point, he was 48 off 43 balls, with Kings XI requiring 43 off 24 balls. Seamlessly, his stroke-making fluidity changed: he hit five boundaries in his next 11 balls to end Kings XI’s two-game losing run, with eight balls to spare.
Nikhil Kalro is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.