You could say the match was more or less decided in the third over when Virat Kohli was caught at mid-on. Or earlier, when Kohli had dropped KL Rahul twice in consecutive overs. In between, Kings XI Punjab cantered from 157/3 to 206/3 before they nixed Devdutt Padikkal and Josh Philippe. It was almost ordained to be Rahul’s day. Nothing could come between him and a classic T20 century that helped Kings XI Punjab build the foundation of a comprehensive 97-run victory against Royal Challengers Bangalore in their Indian Premier League match in Dubai on Thursday.
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Rahul scored 132 – the highest ever score by a captain in an IPL match, also the highest ever by an Indian. In the process he also surpassed Sachin Tendulkar to become the fastest Indian batsman to 2000 IPL runs. It was literally a captain’s knock. But more significantly, it was a lesson in how to anchor a disciplined T20 innings when the pitch doesn’t allow the batsman to play through the line comfortably. Thread the gaps for boundaries when the field is up, squirt ample singles in the middle overs and then go for those ground clearing hits – Rahul did everything with aplomb. He cleared the boundary on seven occasions, but only once before the 16th over, that too off a free-hit in the 10th over.
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The wayward bowling of RCB helped of course. Except Yuzvendra Chahal and Washington Sundar, all the pacers struggled to control the ball in order to find the slower one. Dale Steyn misfired one in the 17th over but Navdeep Saini and Umesh Yadav more often. That allowed Rahul stitch consecutive 57-run partnerships with Mayank Agarwal and Nicholas Pooran before putting up a 78-run fourth-wicket stand with Karun Nair that almost looked a solo act. It was Kohli’s fumbles though that landed the final blows.
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The first, off Steyn, was a low full toss that Rahul tried to whip over deep midwicket. Kohli went forward a few paces before pedalling back and take a catch over his head. But the ball didn’t stick. The next chance was simpler. Saini’s slower delivery in the 18th over prevented Rahul from clearing the long-off boundary. It ballooned up but Kohli spilled it again. Barring those two chances though, Rahul was an epitome of poise. And he played all round the wicket as well.
By the time he was finished, Rahul had scored 60 runs through the off-side and 72 on the on-side, the cover drive being the most prolific shot, fetching him 28 runs through three boundaries and two sixes. Twice he didn’t score a boundary for eight balls but when the time came, he went from 90 off 60 to 132 off 69, scoring 42 off the 49 runs Kings XI scored in the final two overs. Kohli could only watch. It was that kind of a day.
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