Change seems to be the order of the day in Twenty20 cricket but especially so when the Kings XI Punjab are playing. Just before the season began, KXIP skipper Ravichandran Ashwin was asked to talk about which direction his captaincy will take.
His answer revealed a lot about his intentions: “You’ll not be able to predict my next move. All players you think are going to open, will play in the middle order and all the middle-order batsmen will open. I’ll try and stay as unpredictable as possible.”
But here’s the thing, unpredictable doesn’t always mean good things. And while KXIP had a wonderful start to their IPL campaign, against the Mumbai Indians on Friday night, it all went wrong.
Chris Gayle is very much a rhythm player. Some might argue he didn’t need the break, not when he was playing so well. But he got a break and missed the game against Delhi, then scored 23 off 22 balls against SRH, and had another enforced break because KXIP weren’t playing for a bit. As a result, he has never got a rhythm going.
The innings against Mumbai was in the same vein. Their is no denying that the big Jamaican is a dangerous player at the worst of times, but Mumbai bowled well to him. The left-hander would score in spurts and then settle down into periods of uneasy calm. Hardik Pandya, in particular, seemed to have his measure. Gayle got a fifty alright (50 off 40 balls) but it wasn’t quick enough and one could argue that – on a small ground – it didn’t really hurt Mumbai.
A messed up KXIP batting order
At 91.42, Yuvraj Singh’s strike-rate in IPL 2018 is the worst for any player facing 50 or more balls. But he was brought back into the Playing XI and promoted up the order as well. The move was a disaster and he looked completely out of sorts. Gayle and Rahul had given KXIP a platform to build on but sending in an out-of-form Yuvraj backfired badly.
If sending Yuvraj up the order wasn’t bad enough, Ashwin and Co then promoted Axar Patel to come in and bat ahead of Mayank Agarwal.
As it turned out, Yuvraj made 14 off 14 balls and Axar made 13 off 12 balls. 27 runs off 26 balls between the two of them – the game might have been lost here.
MI’s bowlers step up
MI bowlers understood the conditions better than the KXIP bowlers. The wicket was a little sticky initially and MI’s bowlers – until that last manic 22-run over from Hardik – relied on change of pace. Roughly 40% of the deliveries bowled by MI were slower balls. In a nutshell, it worked.
By the time, KXIP came on to bowl, the wicket had become better to bat on, the ball seemed to coming on to the bat better with the late evening dew helping matters and as Mark Waugh pointed out later, they might have been better off banging it in.
Still, MI’s bowlers adapted, KXIP’s didn’t.
Left it late... almost too late
That Rohit-Krunal partnership (56 runs off 21 balls) won it for MI in the end but it really shouldn’t have got to that.
Rohit’s success-rate in unbeaten chases in IPL is 100%. If he is there in the end, his side wins it. He has remained unbeaten 17 times in chases and on all 17 occasions he has ended up on the winning side – a new IPL record. He went ahead of Gautam Gambhir’s tally of 16 such instances.
But still, one can’t shake the feeling that he needs to be batting higher. He is capable enough and destructive enough to bat higher up and make his opportunities count. Ishan Kishan is talented no doubt but is he your number three?
The move to promote Hardik could be understood as he has the capability of getting going from the first ball, but this MI unit still has a lot more work to do before it can get back to its winning ways.
For the moment, the defending champions are still alive. But the big question is, for how long?