The hosts required 18 runs in the final three overs but lost three wickets in no time to allow Hyderabad make a comeback in this encounter. Rahul, however, didn't lose his focus and dealt with the situation maturely. The 26-year-old waited for Nabi to bowl the final over and that's when he delivered the knock out blow. With seven fours and a six to his name, Rahul stayed unbeaten on 71 off 53 balls.
Having registered their fourth win, Punjab moved to the third spot, while Hyderabad are currently at No. 4 with six points.
Asked to bat first, David Warner had to grind it out during his 62-ball 70* - his seventh consecutive fifty against Punjab - before a flurry of boundaries towards the end propelled Hyderabad to a competitive total of 150 for 4 in their 20 overs. In reply, both Rahul and Agarwal (43-ball 55) crafted superb half-centuries, but it was the former who batted till the end and got the job done for his team.
Earlier, it was pretty much expected that R Ashwin will test David Warner and Jonny Bairstow with spin early in the innings and the ploy paid off as Mujeeb Ur Rahman dismissed the latter for 1 only in the second over. The Afghanistan mystery-spinner kept bringing the ball in and Bairstow ended up flicking it straight to Ashwin at mid-wicket, falling for a single-digit score for the first time this season.
Vijay announced his arrival with a gorgeous drive, but just like Warner, found it extremely tough to get going. The likes of Ankit Rajpoot and Mohammed Shami found some assistance off the surface and did manage to exploit it by hitting the right areas. The two kept Warner and Vijay on a leash and Hyderabad could only manage 27 runs in the powerplay.
After consuming 27 deliveries for his 26, Vijay edged one to the wicketkeeper on the bowling of Ashwin. Promoted to No. 4, Mohammad Nabi (12 in 7) looked busy during his brief stay before a fine run out by Ashwin in his own bowling led to his departure.
Considering how much the middle order has struggled this season, Warner took the onus on himself and slowly started to open up his shoulders. The left-hander tonked Mujeeb down the ground for a maximum and laboured his way to his fifty in the same over. It took him 49 deliveries to complete his half-century - his slowest in the history of the competition.
The Australian batsman then scored 20 in his next 13 deliveries and found decent support from Manish Pandey (15-ball 19). However, it was Deepak Hooda (3-ball 14*) who helped his team touch the 150-run mark by smashing Shami's last three balls for 4, 4 and 6.
In reply, Chris Gayle (16) came out with a purpose and slammed Bhuvneshwar Kumar for a huge six to make his intentions clear. The Hyderabad skipper realised it very quickly and used his biggest weapon - Rashid Khan - only in the fourth over. The legspinner reacted even more quickly as he had Gayle caught at long on, thanks to Hooda's superb effort.
While Rahul was still taking time to settle in, Agarwal straightaway started going after the bowlers. The two Karnataka boys went about their business quite smartly, with Agarwal finding at least one boundary in almost every over. The duo didn't allow in-form offspinner Nabi to settle in and went after him the moment he came to bowl.
With 82 needed in the final 10 overs, the two didn't want to leave too much to do at the end, something that cost Punjab the game against Chennai Super Kings, and smacked Siddarth Kaul for 17 runs in his second over. After a slow start, Rahul too found his groove, hitting Kaul for 4 and 6 in consecutive deliveries.
However, both Rahul and Agarwal were smart enough to just play Rashid out without taking any risk. In the process, Rahul completed his fifty in the 13th over by crafting two boundaries off Nabi's bowling. Needing 40 in 30, Yusuf Pathan dropped an absolute sitter at sweeper cover to give Agarwal an extra life and the 28-year-old added insult to injury by smoking Kaul for a maximum to get to his fifty.
The two wanted to get the job done as quickly as possible and that cost Agarwal his wicket. The right-hander was caught at deep mid-wicket while playing a big pull shot in the bowling of Sandeep Sharma. Things got slightly more interesting when the medium pacer also got rid of David Miller (1) in the same over, leaving Punjab to get 16 off the last two overs.
Both Rahul and Mandeep Singh claimed five singles in the first five deliveries of the penultimate over bowled by Kaul before the latter went for the glory and was caught at long off.
The home team needed 11 runs in the last over and Hyderabad went with Nabi. Curran managed 2,2 and 1 in the first three balls before Rahul came to strike and smashed a boundary down the ground to bring the equation down to two off two. Rahul kept his calm and tucked the second last delivery towards long on where a misfield from Warner allowed them to complete two runs and Punjab were able to save themselves from what could have been an embarrassing defeat.
First Published: April 9, 2019, 7:20 AM IST