Gujarat Lions 192 for 4 (Smith 74, Raina 39, Sandeep 2-29) beat Kings XI Punjab 189 for 3 (Amla 104, Marsh 58, Kulkarni 1-24) by six wickets
Hashim Amla scored his second century of the tournament, only the third player to do so in an IPL season, but Kings XI Punjab's playoff chances were dented with their sixth loss in 11 matches. Staying fifth on the table, the gap between them and fourth-placed Sunrisers Hyderabad remained three points. Amla's first century - against Mumbai Indians - had also gone in vain when Kings XI could not defend 198, and on Sunday night, they failed to defend 189 against Gujarat Lions.
Not in contention for the playoffs, Lions were depleted without international recruits Andrew Tye, Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Bravo and Jason Roy (on national duty), and played only three against Kings XI - Dwayne Smith, Aaron Finch and James Faulkner. Smith's power-packed 74 off 39 balls gave their chase a rollicking start and threw Kings XI's plans off track: none of their first three bowlers - Sandeep Sharma, Mohit Sharma and Varun Aaron - struck in their first spells. When Smith departed in the 12th over, they needed 70 off 52 balls, and even though Suresh Raina and Dinesh Karthik did not finish it off smoothly, Karthik stayed till the end to seal a nervy last-over win.
The openers' muscle
The top order of both sides came to the fore to score over 380 runs on a slowish Mohali pitch. When Kings XI were asked to bat, their innings was set up by a second-wicket century stand between Amla and Shaun Marsh. Amla was the more aggressive of the two, after he took off against Pradeep Sangwan in the third over with consecutive fours and relied on boundaries towards the end for the late surge his team needed. He used his supple wrists and crisp drives to mainly score in front of square, bringing up his half-century off 35 balls. His partnership of 125 with Marsh set the tone for a brisk finish, which included 66 runs off the last five overs.
Smith, Amla's counterpart, had not scored a fifty in 10 IPL innings and, before this game, had managed only 103 runs in nine innings this season, with single-digit scores in his last six innings. This time, he used his powerful arms to smash eight fours in the Powerplay, scoring 43 out of the team's 58. He targeted the region in the 'V' down the ground and was even more aggressive once the spinners, Axar Patel and Glenn Maxwell, came on. He had lost his partner Ishan Kishan at the halfway mark but had brought the equation down to 87 from 60 with his 28-ball half-century.
Left-handed second fiddles
In the first innings, Marsh had been middling strokes from his first ball but was unable to find gaps. His role, since Amla was scoring easily, was merely to stick around and rotate the strike. Marsh's cue to score briskly came when he faced two spinners - Ravindra Jadeja and Ankit Soni - as both brought the ball into him. He milked runs on the leg side, showcased his trademark cuts square of the pitch and scored a useful 58 off 43.
During the chase, Kishan had a similar role to play. Once Smith started using his flashy bat-swings to collect boundaries, Kishan made sure he took those singles, scored at more than run-a-ball and saw off the opening bowlers. A left-hander just like Marsh, he also took off once the spinners came on. Facing Maxwell in the eighth over, Kishan pulled and cut to collect 12 from the over with Smith's help. Kishan's 29 off 24 was not quite a match-winning knock but did the job the team needed with Smith firing.
Dropping those sitters
Whether you spot any other trend in this IPL or not, the spate of dropped catches is unmissable. The first catch that went down on Sunday was the toughest - Jadeja's leaping attempt from backward point with Amla on 12 - but the ones that followed made only one team look shabby: Kings XI.
The simplest of those proved the costliest. David Miller had enough time to circle the ground and still get under a Smith skier in the sixth over but he put it down with the batsman on 42. Two overs later, Smith smashed one down the ground towards Gurkeerat, who did well to dive forward but could not hold on. Smith was on 51. Lions were soon cruising with Raina and Karthik in a stable partnership, but the Lions captain offered Kings XI a chance too, in the 17th over. He miscued a drive to Gurkeerat's right at long-off and the fielder got his hands under the ball this time but out it popped again. "The bowlers and fielders let us down, we dropped three crucial catches," Maxwell bluntly stated later.