Kings XI Punjab 167 for 4 (Rahul 51, Nair 50) beat Delhi Daredevils 166 for 7 (Gambhir 55, Mujeeb 2-28) by six wickets

KL Rahul blasted the IPL’s fastest half-century to give Kings XI Punjab a rousing start to their 2018 IPL campaign. Inside three overs and off just 14 deliveries, Rahul razed to the landmark, knocking the stuffing out of the Daredevils attack in a brutal performance.

Incongruously, though, Kings XI ended up huffing and puffing to their target of 167. Consider this: after Rahul’s dismissal, Kings XI managed 103 runs in 84 balls. But such had been the damage inflicted by Rahul that they still ended up winning with seven deliveries to spare.

All that after Gautam Gambhir, the Daredevils captain, celebrated his return to his hometown franchise with a fighting half-century. But Kings XI’s spin duo of R Ashwin and the 17-year old debutant offspinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman leading a strong bowling performance to restrict Daredevils to a par total.

Mujeeb’s instant reward

At 17 years and 11 days, Mujeeb Ur Rahman became the IPL’s youngest player ever. Mujeeb has all the qualities that underline an effective limited-overs spinner: his variations keep the batsmen guessing, he can be deceptive with his trajectory, and his unusual action makes it difficult to pick him off the hand.

Colin Munro tends to struggle against spin in the Powerplay: he has fallen to them four times in 17 innings during this phase in T20s. After opening with himself, Ashwin introduced Mujeeb in the third over. Munro took zero time to suss out the newcomer, getting down for a switch hit to the first ball he faced from him. Mujeeb’s drift from around the stumps got Munro into a tangle, and trapped him plumb in front. Daredevils 12 for 1 in the third over.

Gambhir’s counter-offensive

Until Sunday, Gambhir had faced 42 balls from Axar Patel in all T20s. His numbers against him: 36 runs at 5.14 an over. And that included just two fours. On Sunday, he doubled the tally off the first two balls he faced from the left-arm spinner, first with a flowing inside-out drive through cover, and then with a crunching sweep through square leg. He followed that up with a superbly-timed chip over long-off. It was a typically fluent Gambhir against spin on display. He made brilliant use of his feet and especially favoured the inside-out shot to counter the drift. In his first match back with his hometown franchise, Gambhir notched up a half-century – the 36th of his IPL career – and kept Daredevils on course for a strong total.

Walking the talk

Ashwin followed up on his pre-season declaration of trying to be as unpredictable as possible, both with his bowling, and the manner in which he rotated them. He began by using five different bowlers inside the Powerplay.

Kings XI stacked up their attack with three spinners, and each of them contributed to pulling the team back. Axar removed Shreyas Iyer to end a 42-run second-wicket stand – Daredevils’ best of the innings. Rishabh Pant’s cameo briefly swung the momentum back, before Mujeeb had him with a googly, thanks to a brilliant catch by Andrew Tye, running backwards from extra cover. Mujeeb then nailed a direct hit to account for Gambhir, run out for the 16th time – an IPL record. Ashwin tantalised with off-breaks, legbreaks, carrom balls and flippers: all of them delivered with superb control. He had Rahul Tewatia lbw on an attempted switch hit, and it looked as though Daredevils would have to settle for an under-par total.

But Daredevils still had Chris Morris to come. Morris has a smart strike rate of 241 at the death. Moreover, he’s begins quickly: since the 2015 IPL, he has been striking at 157 in the first 10 balls he faces. His unbeaten 16-ball 27, after coming in in the last five overs, was just what Daredevils needed to finish well.

More to follow…

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