A Chris Morris cameo barely papered over the cracks left by the performance of an experimental Royal Challengers Bangalore batting order but it wasn’t enough to stop Kings XI Punjab from registering an eight-wicket victory KL Rahul anchored with two successive fifty-plus partnerships. Giving Rahul company were two of his oldest mates—Mayank Agarwal, who he knows since his teens, and Chris Gayle, who he has played with previously at RCB. On a two-paced Sharjah pitch where shot-making is starting to look difficult with every passing day, Rahul didn’t lose faith in his partners despite a few dot balls, confident that the jail-breaking shot would be around the corner.
Agarwal and Gayle didn’t disappoint. Between the two, Agarwal was obviously more fluent, setting up Kings XI Punjab’s chase with a 25-ball 45. Gayle, who had last played competitive cricket on 15 January, struggled a bit but once Washington Sundar erred in length for the first time, he planted forward his front foot and announced his arrival with a massive six over Sundar’s head. Despite the last-over drama, it was a pretty comfortable chase. But it wouldn’t have been if RCB had not shuffled the batting order and sent AB de Villiers at No 6.
Had Kohli got de Villiers earlier, he could have concentrated on finding the singles while de Villiers would have gone about his business. The most prolific scoring duo in the history of IPL, they know each other like the back of their hands. Instead of giving this partnership bulk of the overs, RCB gambled with Sundar and Dube. The only plausible explanation behind this shuffle could be that RCB wanted to keep the left-hand-right hand combination going against spinners. It misfired and RCB finished with the lowest first-innings total of this IPL at Sharjah. And despite Yuzvendra Chahal dragging the match till the last ball, KXIP managed to cross the line.