KL Rahul’s scintillating 36-ball 71 paved the way for a consolation six-wicket victory for Kings XI Punjab in Mohali on Sunday as Chennai Super Kings heaved a sigh of relief by ensuring a top-two finish in the ongoing season of Indian Premier League.

It looked for a while as if KXIP might play spoilsport for the defending champions by pushing their net run-rate below Delhi Capitals, instead CSK hung on to earn the chance to play the first IPL Qualifier at their happy hunting home ground in Chepauk. Their opponents will be decided based on the result between Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders in the second match on Sunday.

With nothing to lose in the final game of the season, Rahul, Chris Gayle (28 off 28 balls) and Nicholas Pooran (36 off 22 balls) were the key contributors in KXIP’s successful chase of 171 in in 18 overs.

However CSK will be happy that with a net run-rate of +0.131 which is far better than Delhi Capitals’ (+0.044), the defending champions will remain in the top two with two clear shots at summit clash qualification even if MI beat KKR in the evening game.

Such was Rahul’s domination that Universe Boss Gayle’s run-a-ball knock paled in in comparison as the duo added 108 runs in only 10.3 overs to seal the match.

While senior off-spinner Harbhajan Singh got three wickets, he was hit for 57 runs in four overs.

In fact, Dhoni’s ploy to use Harbhajan in the Powerplays which had worked wonderfully in Chepauk, backfired on a placid Mohali track as he went for 41 runs in his first two overs –17 in the first and 24 in the second.

In that second Harbhajan over which was fourth of the innings, Rahul hit the veteran for three boundaries and two sixes, completing his half-century off 19 balls.

He scored at fast clip albeit coming only after skipper R Ashwin’s admission that KXIP’s Powerplay displays left a lot to be desired.

Harbhajan was far better in his final two overs as he took three wickets for 16 runs including Rahul, Gayle and Mayank Agarwal. That spell also made sure CSK finish in the top two.

However Pooran played a cameo to ensure a happy ending for the home team.

Earlier, Faf du Plessis missed out on a well-deserved hundred by four runs as KXIP bowled well at the start and death to restrict CSK 170/5.

Du Plessis’ 96 off 55 balls and his 120-run stand with Suresh Raina (53 off 38 balls) set a platform for the defending champions.

However Sam Curran (3/35) and Mohammed Shami (2/17 in 3 overs) bowled well in the final few overs as CSK seemed at least 10 runs short of par score.

Du Plessis’ knock had 10 fours and four sixes and was dismissed by brilliant Curran yorker in the 19th over. Du Plessis destroyed the Kings XI bowling attack, particularly punishing medium pacer Andrew Tye (0/37 in 3 overs) and spinner Murugan Ashwin (0/33 in 3 overs), hitting two boundaries and a six in one of their over.

Raina gave him good support at the other end, hitting five boundaries and two sixes.

Raina, who along with du Plessis tried to accelerate the pace of scoring, fell when the score was 150 in the 17th over off Curran’s bowling. The England all-rounder at the onset had dismissed Shane Watson.

Ambati Rayudu (1) and Kedar Jadhav’s (0) wickets were claimed by pacer Shami in the final over of the innings.

Later in the night, Jadhav suffered a shoulder injury that saw him go off the field. It looked serious enough to end his IPL campaign and also cast a shadow over his place in the World Cup squad.

(With PTI inputs)