In a repeat of last season's final, defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders got the better of hosts Kings XI Punjab by six wickets at the MCA International Stadium in Pune. Set to chase 156, KKR were reduced to 60 for 5 in the eighth over and were all but out of the contest, but fought back through a spectacular innings from Andre Russell and his 95-run partnership with Yusuf Pathan.
Sandeep Sharma polished off the top three and picked up the wicket of Ryan ten Doeschate to finish with figures of four for 25 – his best figures in T20 cricket. At that stage, it appeared as KXIP would canter to a resounding victory.
But, that's when Russell took charge and changed the complexion of the match completely with some fierce striking; he was particularly severe on any width offered and flayed six boundaries through the off-side. The over that tilted the balance in favour of KXIP was Axar Patel's second over – the 13th of the innings – in which Russell hit two fours and a six and accumulated 19 runs. Post that over, the required rate came down to a manageable 7.57.
Russell perished with his team one run away from victory; he made 66 from 36 balls, hit nine boundaries and two fours, and completely blew away the KXIP bowlers. Yusuf Pathan was not the usual big-hitting batsman one is used to see, but he applied himself brilliantly, often turning the strike over to his partner who was striking the ball better. He remained unbeaten on 28 from 24 balls, playing the perfect foil for the aggressive Russell. One must also not overlook the contribution of Suryakumar Yadav, who entertained with a cameo, hitting two fours and two sixes; he made 23 from 10 balls.
Sandeep Sharma and Thisara Perera (1-33) were the standout bowlers for KXIP, while Mitchell Johnson had a poor outing, conceding 41 from his 3.5 overs.
Earlier in the evening, after being put in to bat first, the top three Kings XI Punjab batsmen struggled to cope with the tennis ball bounce on the pitch and faced a total of 25 balls, contributing 26 runs in all.
George Bailey played the rescue innings to perfection; he walked in to bat at 27-3 and batted through to the final over. The Australian got off the mark with two boundaries – a pull wide of mid-on, followed by a cut between cover and point, put the pressure back on the KKR bowlers, and then smartly kept picking up ones and twos. He was involved in a 63-run partnership with Glenn Maxwell, who hit two boundaries and as many sixes in his 26-ball 33.
The pair was separated in the twelfth over when Maxwell was dismissed by a sharp catch by Andre Russell. Thisara Perera (drafted into the KXIP XI in place of David Miller) and Gurkeerat Singh (who replaced Rishi Dhawan) got starts but couldn't carry on.
It was therefore left to skipper Bailey to turn on the heat. In the 17th over, he hit Piyush Chawla's last delivery for a six, picked up consecutive boundaries off Umesh Yadav, and hit Morne Morkel for a six in the final over. He was dismissed with three balls remaining in the innings, when he attempted to take a risky second run, but was beaten by a throw from Ryan ten Doeschate. Bailey made 60 from 45 balls in an innings studded with five boundaries and two sixes.
The KKR bowlers bowled with plenty of venom early on, with the bulk of the deliveries in the first six overs clocking over 140kph. Umesh Yadav, who regained his place in the KKR XI, finished the most successful bowler in the innings with figures of three for 33, while Morkel and Russell picked up two wickets each. Sunil Narine was stingy as ever, conceding only 17 runs in his four overs while picking up the wicket of Axar Patel.
Kings XI Punjab 155-9 in 20.0 Overs (George Bailey 60, Umesh Yadav 3-33) lost to Kolkata Knight Riders 159-6 in 17.5 Overs (Andre Russell 66, Sandeep Sharma 4-25)
Man of the Match: Andre Russell, for his 66 & 2-39