Sanju Samson looked on exasperatedly after his monumental effort to take Rajasthan Royals home in a nail-biting chase ended in the hands of Deepak Hooda.
And, it seemed, Hooda, having hit a stunning 64 off 28 balls earlier to give the impetus to the Punjab innings, was destined to be in the thick of things when the Royals needed five off the last ball to pull off an improbable victory.
It was such a night when it was hard to pick a winner among the stars that illuminated this Indian Premier League contest – a humdinger that the Kings won by just four runs, after posting a massive 221 for six.
Samson (119, 63 balls, 12 fours and 7 sixes), coming in at number three after opener Ben Stokes fell before the Royals could open their account, anchored the chase brilliantly before exhibiting his range of sublime shots in the final five overs.
His counterpart, KL Rahul (91, 50 balls, 7 fours, 5 sixes), was majestic too at the top of the order for Punjab. The wicketkeeper-batsman shared 105 runs off 44 balls for the third wicket with Hooda, who, having suffered the ignominy of a one-year ban from domestic cricket, took out his anger on the Royals bowlers, putting them to the sword with six massive sixes at the Wankhede Stadium.
But the Kings would have still fallen short if the young left-arm pacer, Arshdeep Singh (3/35), had failed to hold his nerve after the Royals, inspired by Samson’s stupendous knock, needed only 13 off the last over with four wickets in hand.
Arshdeep kept his cool with his brilliant length, denying Chris Morris the freedom to swing his bat before Samson was caught in the deep while going for the last-ball six.
“I don’t have words to explain my feelings. Would have loved to finish it off for my team. I don’t think I could have done better than that. I thought I timed it well for a six but somehow…” a distraught Samson said after his heroics ended in a heartbreak.
Samson became the first player to score a hundred on IPL debut as captain, but such personal records never manage to bring a smile to an athlete’s face after defeat for the team.
And for someone so young, Arshdeep showed remarkable composure in the tense finish.
“The heartbeat was quick earlier, but now it’s good. The plan was to keep it simple and wide,” the 22-year-old Punjab player said.
“The only thing was he could get a four. Still the plan was to keep it simple and wide. The start has been good and the captain has been supportive. That boosts the confidence as a player. The form was good in the 20-over domestic format and that helped me here.”
Earlier, Chris Gayle (40 off 28 balls) played his part too in helping Punjab post a massive total, the highest of the tournament this season.
While the Punjab bowlers used their variations well, the Royals would be disappointed with the effort from their bowlers with only the debutant Chetan Sakariya (3/31) showing good control.
The biggest disappointment was, of course, Morris, the most expensive player in the IPL history.
Having failed to contain the flow of the runs in the death overs with the ball, the giant South African failed to find the sweet spot of his bat when Samson desperately needed his support in the final two overs.
Kings captain Rahul, the highest scorer of the tournament last season, said he never stopped believing even when Samson was in the zone.
“The heart rate was high but I didn’t stop believing. We knew a couple of wickets would bring us back,” Rahul said before acknowledging the mistakes his fielders made.
“Till first 10-11 overs we bowled well. It was close because we dropped a few sitters, including me. As a bowling unit, we bowled as we planned. When you’re bowling against Sanju, it’s difficult. But it’s a great way to start!”