Have bowlers finally cracked the Rahul-Gayle puzzle?
KL Rahul and Chris Gayle have carried Kings XI Punjab's batting throughout IPL 2018, scoring nearly half their total runs so far. Rahul, in particular, has been unstoppable, often batting through the innings and taking them home in chases. If there's been a weakness, it is that the duo had been dismissed eight times in 19 combined innings by the short ball before this game. It is a tactic that doesn't work at all times, as their combined strike rate of 169 against short balls shows. But against express pace, as Kolkata Knight Riders' Andre Russell showed in their previous game, it has proven to be an effective option early on in the innings.
Royal Challengers made full use of this opportunity, persisting with the short stuff even as Rahul and Gayle went after them with hooks and cuts. Umesh Yadav landed 10 of his 18 balls in the short and short-of-length regions, and while those went for 15 runs, his extra pace managed to force mistimed pulls from both the Kings XI openers, which headed straight into the hands of fielders in the deep. Their success didn't end there: Mohammed Siraj landed one in the same region and had Karun Nair caught at slip the very next over to leave them on 47 for 3 at the end of the Powerplay.
Where has Kings XI's middle order gone?
As many as 10 Kings XI batsmen, including R Ashwin, have batted at No. 3 through to No. 6, and together they average an abysmal 17.63 between themselves. It is the lowest aggregate among the eight teams, and after a combined 44 innings, the Kings XI batsmen have managed only one fifty in those positions. Moeen Ali, in his post-innings chat with the host broadcaster, emphasised how RCB put in their best plans and resources to get rid of the openers, after which things would ease up for the bowlers in the middle overs.
Gayle and Rahul managed 39 runs between them on Monday, their lowest combined aggregate this season in the nine games they have played together. Just as Moeen mentioned, those two early wickets were enough to trigger an unstoppable downward spiral.
How much does this win improve RCB's chances?
Virat Kohli and Parthiv Patel knocked off the 89 they needed in just 8.1 overs, pushing their net run rate up to +0.218, wiping out their negative NRR going into their last two games. If they win their remaining two games, at home against Sunrisers Hyderabad followed by an away game against Rajasthan Royals, they have a good chance of qualifying for the playoffs as the fourth-placed side, especially with this improved net run rate.
Their win also raises Mumbai Indians' hopes of making it to the last four - they could still go through with just 12 points, thanks to their strong net run rate. Sunrisers Hyderabad have also been assured of two shots at getting into the final; this result confirms a top-two spot for Sunrisers.