KL Rahul was batting on 47 off 41 when Mayank Agarwal was dismissed for a brilliant 36-ball 69 in the 13th over of Punjab Kings’ innings on Sunday. It seemed at the time that Punjab would post a total well past 200. But as it turned out, their final score of 195 got chased down with 10 balls to spare.

Delhi Capitals, too, got a strong opening partnership in the chase. They reached 59 in the sixth over, with Shikhar Dhawan batting on 26 off 16, when Prithvi Shaw got out after a blazing 17-ball 32.

Both Punjab and Delhi had one clear aggressor in each of their first-wicket partnerships. But even though Delhi’s opening stand was a little less than half of Punjab’s, they ended up with a much stronger finish. And the reason for that can be pinned down to how the other two openers in the equation went about their business.

After the match ended, Rahul was asked if his team should’ve posted a bigger total considering the platform they had. He replied: “Right now it looks like we were 10-15 runs short, but I think 190-odd looked good. Mayank and I thought 180-190 would have been great on this wicket.”

It is in these quotes that one gets a clear picture of what went wrong for Punjab. While they can’t be faulted for aiming at a total of 180-190 to begin with, the mistake they made was to not recalibrate once Agarwal took off.

Rahul had caught attention for saying “strike-rate is very, very overrated” during the last Indian Premier League season. He had finished as the highest run-scorer in IPL 2020 but his team finished sixth on the points table, which left his strike-rate of 129.34 as a major talking point.

At the Wankhede on Sunday, Rahul faced 51 balls to score 61 runs. Fifty-one is a lot of balls in a T20 game and surely, a player of his calibre should be aiming for much more. He seemed to be middling the ball from the time he defended the first three balls of the Punjab innings and yet, his strike-rate hovered around 100 for the first 34 balls he faced.

Because Rahul consumed almost half the deliveries in their innings, Punjab finished with six wickets in hand and with Deepak Hooda and Shahrukh Khan – two of their most impressive hitters so far this season – unbeaten on 22 off 13 and 15 off 5 respectively.

Had the skipper shown more intent and not been content with the misplaced assumption that his team was on course for a match-winning total, PBKS could well have returned with two points at the end of the day.

KL Rahul in IPL

Mat Runs SR
Career 84 2804 136.31
2021 3 157 145.37
2020 14 670 129.34
Since 2020 17 827 132.11

While Rahul’s innings was a big talking point at the halfway stage of the match itself, the fault in his strike-rate was drilled home by Dhawan’s knock thereafter and his comments in the post-match presentation ceremony.

“It was a conscious effort from my side, I knew I have to improve on that (strike-rate). I started taking more risks and it paid off nicely today,” he said after picking up the player of the match award for his 49-ball 92.

“I’m not afraid of changes, always open towards them. I keep on trying things and give it a good shot in the nets before bringing it in the game. I’m not scared of getting out either. Today I got out (attempting a scoop shot) but I back my run-scoring shots.”

Shikhar Dhawan in IPL

Mat Runs SR
Career 179 5383 127.86
2021 3 186 163.15
2020 17 618 144.73
2020 17 804 148.61

It is this approach that helped Delhi make light work of what was a challenging total. Although he benefitted from having a target in front of him, Dhawan did remarkably well to keep up the tempo once Shaw was dismissed.

The left-hander is the top run-scorer in the tournament at the moment and the confidence with which he’s batting is a great sign for Delhi. Like Rahul, he’s timing the ball wonderfully at the moment but the difference between the two on Sunday was the courage to take risks.

Dhawan’s 13 fours and two sixes were sprayed all around the park and he didn’t seem to have a moment of doubt during the entirety of his stay at the crease. And by the time he was dismissed, his team needed just 46 off 31.

Like Rahul said in the post-match, there’s still a long way to go in the tournament and Punjab could well go on a winning streak. But for that to happen, they might want to take a leaf out of Dhawan’s book... they’ll need to take the risks to get the rewards.