Rahul and Gayle put on a rapid 96-run opening stand against Chennai. © BCCI

Rahul and Gayle put on a rapid 96-run opening stand against Chennai. © BCCI

Kings XI Punjab have had among their best starts to an Indian Premier League season, with two wins in three matches and a squad that has looked in form. One of the prime movers behind their success has been KL Rahul’s form at the top of the order. The Karnataka batsman began with the fastest 50 in IPL history – off just 14 balls – against Delhi Daredevils and has carried on that form with good knocks against Royal Challengers Bangalore and Chennai Super Kings.

While Punjab lost to Bangalore, they bounced back with a four-run win against Chennai on Sunday (April 15) at the PCA Stadium in Mohali. Rahul played his part with 37 off 22, taking him second amongst the leading run-scorers of the tournament so far with 135 runs at a strike-rate of 198.52, but the scene-stealer for Punjab was Chris Gayle, who smashed 63 off 33 in his debut game for Punjab.

“It’s amazing news for our team and bad news for other teams that Chris Gayle is hitting the ball well,” said Rahul at the press conference after the match. “We all know he’s a player who can win games single-handedly and demolish attacks on his day. That’s what he did today, and we want him and expect him to continue this form forward and be consistent and get a lot of runs for us. Because if he gets going, there is no stopping him.”

Rahul said Punjab’s plan this season was to attack from the outset, against all opposition. While admitting that there would be days it wouldn’t come off, like it happened against Bangalore, he said the quality in the batting line-up meant the team was confident of the strategy working more often than not.

“The plan was very clear. The batsmen keep going for the boundary options and keep looking to get runs. We’ve said this before the tournament started that that’s the kind of cricket we want to play,” explained Rahul. “We want to be very aggressive. Sometimes, like in Bangalore, it may not come off, but it’s okay. We’ll still keep going there and trying to get boundaries and sixes. That was the plan and everybody’s clear. And it’s not every day that all seven or all six batsmen are going to come off – if everyone does, we might even get 260-270 but that’s not going to happen very often.

“But our plans are very simple – whichever team we are playing, we’ll try to play aggressive cricket. With the bat, we’ll look to get runs and with the ball, we’ll try to get a couple of wickets early because that’s the only way you can stop the run flow against any team.”

Punjab lost their way a little after the openers had put on 96 runs in just eight overs, but cameos in the middle order from Mayank Agarwal (30 off 19), Yuvraj Singh (20 off 13) and Karun Nair (29 off 17) meant they ended up with a total of 197 for 7, which proved just enough to pip Chennai, who made 193 for 5.

“Great knock from Chris to start off and we had the great partnership. We had a perfect Power Play and then we lost a couple of wickets but still Karun and Mayank managed to get a cameo 30-odd runs each which was very good at the end,” felt Rahul. “And Ash (R Ashwin) got a few hits and people who went in – Yuvi – controlled the game really well in the middle overs. So yes, we are very happy with our batting. But it’s still early in the tournament so we’ll learn from our mistakes and see how we can keep improving.”

That Chennai got as close as they did was down to MS Dhoni’s 79 not out off 44, which saw Chennai ransack 62 runs from the last four overs. Dhoni was battling a bad back, but that didn’t stop him from hitting 47 off those runs in just 18 balls and giving Punjab a scare.

“The plan was to bowl wide yorkers to MS because he was struggling with his back and we felt that he couldn’t reach them,” said Rahul. “But good back or bad back, if you pitch it in his arc he’s still going to hit it miles, so yes good learning for our bowling attack. But overall we’re very happy that we got a win.”