Skipper Adam Gilchrist finally led from the front with a dazzling unbeaten 85 as Kings XI Punjab scored a comfortable seven-wicket victory over Royal Challengers in a Pepsi Indian Premier League match in Bangalore on Tuesday.
Chasing a stiff target of 175, the former Australia ace blazed his way to a 54-ball 85, which was studded with 10 fours and three huge sixes, as the Punjab side romped home with 11 balls to spare and kept alive their chances of a play-off berth.
Kings XI, with 12 points from 14 matches, are now placed sixth, courtesy a better net run-rate than defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders, who are also on 12 points.
The win also helped Gautam Gambhir's men stay in contention. An RCB victory would have decisively shut the doors on them.
The defeat for RCB also made the situation tricky for
Virat Kohli and Co, who now have 16 points from 15 games and need to win their final game at any cost.
The foundation of the Punjab team’s victory was laid by two veterans, Gilchrist and 'T20 freelancer' Azhar Mahmood, who added 118 runs for the second wicket. Mahmood scored 61 off 41 balls, with eight fours and a six.
The duo, whose cumulative age is 79 years, drew on their years of experience in international cricket to pave the way for an easy win.
This was after Zaheer Khan, who made a comeback to competitive cricket after nearly five months, cleaned up Shaun Marsh in his second over.
It was Mahmood, who first gave the charge, hitting Moises Henriques for three successive boundaries in the last over of the Powerplay (6th).
Taking a cue from Mahmood's posituve approach, Gilchrist, who had only one score of 40-plus in the tournament, also got into the groove and hit some cracking strokes.
The Aussie dasher brought up his half century with a straight six off Zaheer. The stand-out hit will, however, be the inside-out six over extra cover off Muttiah Muralitharan. He followed it up with another six -- a slog sweep over deep square leg.
It was Rajagopal Sathish who finished the proceedings with a back-drive.
Earlier, Gayle's power-hitting in the back 10, which was ably complemented by skipper Virat Kohli, enabled Royal Challengers post a challenging total.
While Gayle helped himself to a 53-ball-77, inclusive of four boundaries and six huge sixes, skipper Kohli's contribution of 57 off 43 balls (6x4, 2x6) was equally significant in their 137-run second wicket stand.
The final six overs of the innings produced a whopping 86 runs, with Gayle hitting Manpreet Gony for three successive sixes as 22 runs came off the 15th over of the innings.
With Kohli hitting Parvinder Awana for a six and a four, 15 runs came off the very next over.
The required momentum was missing during the first 10 overs when Gayle was more intent on pushing for singles and twos as he couldn't consistently get the big hits going.
Royal Challengers’ fifty came up only in the 10th over. With Gayle still at the crease, it was something even the die-hard home team fans couldn't believe.
For the Kings XI, Awana had best figures -- three for 39 -- while Azhar Mahmood was the most effective bowler with. His clever variation and mix enabled him finish with two for 24 in four overs.
The Bangalore side got off to a slow start, as Cheteshwar Pujara (19, 20 balls, 3x4) failed to get going. He not only failed to clear the in-field but also couldn't rotate the strike and allow more deliveries to Gayle during his time at the crease.
In the end, he slashed one from Awana and gave David Miller a catch at backward point.
The Gayle-Kohli combination, which has worked wonders for the RCB, again came to the fore as both played confidently. They were watchful for the first few overs before unleashing a barrage of strokes.
Image: Adam Gilchrist celebrates with Azhar Mahmood