Mayank Agarwal‘s maiden IPL hundred was overshadowed by a six-studded 53 from Rahul Tewatia, who with help of quickfire half-centuries from Sanju Samson and Steve Smith, helped Rajasthan Royals pull off the highest IPL chase of 224, against Kings XI Punjab, in Sharjah on Sunday.

Promoted to No. 4 in the high scoring affair, the move seemed to have backfired for Smith & Co. with Tewatia struggling to get a move on early in his innings as the asking rate mounted. However, he turned the tables on KXIP in a loose 18th over from Sheldon Cottrell, after the dismissal of a free-flowing Samson, to script a stunning come-from-behind win for his side by four wickets. With two in two victories, Royals pipped KXIP to take the second spot in the points table, behind Delhi Capitals.

The Agarwal-Rahul show

It was Agarwal in the first game and Rahul in the second who anchored KXIP’s innings. Tonight, the childhood friends put in a joint shift to post a mammoth 183-run partnership that left Royals clueless for 16 overs. Agarwal took the lead this time, notching up the second century of IPL 2020, incidentally both coming from the Kings’ camp. That Rahul didn’t look at his best and was completely overshadowed by Agarwal but still helped himself to a half-century tells you all about the bowlers’ plight.

Small ground and flat pitch always meant very little margin for error for the bowlers. However, RR struggled to get their lines and lengths right and Agarwal and Rahul sent them on a leather hunt. RR strangely held back Jofra Archer, and when he finally came on, Rahul dispatched him for a hattrick of boundaries to get going. The duo took KXIP to 60 off the powerplay, but Agarwal quickly went on to outscore his captain, courtesy back to back sixes each off Tewatia and Shreyas Gopal in the eighth and ninth over. And then there was no looking back. The opener, who has often struggled to replicate his domestic form in IPL, finally raised his maiden hundred in the competition, in the 15th over and only off 45 deliveries, making it the second fastest by an Indian in the 13-year history of the competition.

The Samson-Smith counterattack

It wasn’t Rahul and Mayank alone who carried their form from the previous games to Sharjah. Sanju Samson and Steve Smith, too, were up for the challenge. It was the same ground the Royals had posted the season’s best score of 216 before tonight, and they came out all guns blazing with an asking rate of 11 from ball one. KXIP were 60 after their powerplay, and despite losing Jos Buttler cheaply, RR made a strong comeback to post 69 in return.

Smith led from the front, notching up his fifty off 26 balls and leading from the front in the tall chase. But Samson wasn’t too far behind either. He laid into Cottrell and Ravi Bishnoi in the powerplay, and was happy to play second fiddle to the skipper. It was after Smith’s dismissal though, that a well-set Samson decided to shoulder the responsibility of the chase. The dismissal of two big guns at the other end didn’t seem to deter him as he raced to his fifty off 27 balls, and later absorbed the pressure when Tewatia seemed overwhelmed. En route his 85 off 41 was the big over off Glenn Maxwell that revived RR’s hopes even as KXIP’s slower bowlers seemed to have put their team ahead in the middle overs.

The see-saw battles

RR took a punt and promoted Tewatia to No. 4 given his tendency to churn out game-changing cameos. But boy, did he struggle to get going! KXIP did one better and brought on Glenn Maxwell who squeezed in two tight overs to push RR on the backfoot and put Samson under more pressure. The third Maxwell over, however, put RR ahead once again as Samson plucked three sixes off the over to take his side to 161/2 after 16.

KXIP resorted to Shami – the tournament’s leading wicket-taker – who put an end to the dangerous Samson’s fireworks with a slower short ball on 85 and Robin Uthappa on nine. However, in between was a game-changing 18th over where Cottrell just didn’t seem to find the right lengths. Tewatia redeemed himself and justified his promotion by dispatching five of the six deliveries from Cottrell over the ropes to fetch 30, moving from 8 off 19 at one point to 17 off 23 and then, in the blink of an eye, to 47.

Jofra Archer joined in on the fun, slamming two sixes off Shami to spoil his decent figures up until then, but more importantly, put RR on the brink of a victory. Tewatia picked a seventh maximum to bring up his half-century before perishing, leaving RR with just two to get off the final six. Curran then polished off the chase with a boundary off the third ball to end the forgettable night for KXIP. From an improbable 51 required off 18, Royals closed out the chase with three balls to spare.

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