Anil Kumble, the Punjab Kings coach, was at a loss of words to explain yet another loss from a winning position. Kings failed to score the eight runs they needed off the last two overs to lose to Rajasthan Royals by just two runs. It made their qualifying chances that much harder. A sixth loss in nine games now means Kings will have to win every single game to control their own fate.
"It's sort of become a pattern for us especially when we get to Dubai, it seems," Kumble said. "The approach was clear, we needed to finish it in 19 overs. That was the approach, to not let it go till the end. But unfortunately, when you leave it to the last couple of balls, it becomes a lottery. Credit to [Kartik] Tyagi for the way he bowled."
The loss followed a somewhat similar pattern to their game against Kolkata Knight Riders in Abu Dhabi last year. Back then, they lost despite needing just 22 off 18 balls with nine wickets in hand. On that occasion, they turned a cruise into complete wreckage by throwing their bats around and then being bested by Sunil Narine. Here, they couldn't quite get bat to ball.
Kumble was particularly irked by his batters not being able to read Tyagi's plans towards the end.
"It was pretty clear he was going to bowl wide outside off, and somehow our batters didn't take the right options," he said. "We need to discuss this and sort it out. We have five more games to go, we don't want to get bogged down by this defeat but it's certainly a bitter pill to swallow."
Asked if he thought Royals left them with too much to chase, Kumble felt the bowlers had done everything that was asked of them on a "good wicket." And it was simply a case of the batters failing to see off the chase. Arshdeep Singh picked up his maiden T20 five-for, while Mohammed Shami's late strikes meant Royals finished well short of the 200-plus they looked to get. In fact, they lost 6 for 19.
"I think it was a very good wicket, and we really came back in the last four overs where we gave away just 20 runs and picked up six wickets or so. Arshdeep bowled brilliantly, as did Shami. [Harpreet] Brar bowled really well on a tough pitch. On a ground where one side of the boundary is short, at one stage Royals looked good to score 200-210. So to really squeeze them in the last four, I thought the bowling effort was really good.
"With the bat also, we showed it till the 17th over. We were cruising but we were pulled back in the 18th and 19th overs after [Aiden] Markram's six. As batters, they know what their scoring shots are. All it needed was a bit of hitting. Even if someone got out first ball, the next batter had five balls to get the runs. When it goes to the last couple of balls, it becomes hard. The messaging was clear. We had to finish it in 19 overs, unfortunately that didn't happen today."