After starting the 11th season of Indian Premier League in entertaining fashion, winning five out of their first six matches, Kings XI Punjab have hit a roadblock and are in a precarious position in the race for playoffs. After the most recent defeat, a 10-wicket shellacking at the hands of Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore, captain R Ashwin said he expected his team to struggle at some point, just not this badly.

Speaking after the thrashing on Monday night in Indore, Ashwin said, “We aren’t one of the top champion sides to be very honest, we are one of those sides that punched above our weight in the first half of the competition. To be very precise, I did expect to find ourselves in such a situation, but not this much; probably thought we might have won one or two more games and probably reached 14 or 16 points.”

Punjab have now lost three matches on the trot and have to win both their remaining games - away at Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings - to guarantee a place in the playoffs.

One of the problem areas for Punjab has been the over-dependence on KL Rahul and Chris Gayle at the top of the order, with the middle order struggling for runs. One of those batsmen is Mayank Agarwal who, after a stellar domestic campaign, has simply not going for the franchise in the IPL. Ashwin said he had his sympathy for the Karnataka batsman.

“It’s not rocket science, you need to have belief,” Ashwin said about Agarwal, who has 120 runs from 10 innings so far. “He’s a quality player, there’s absolutely no time during the nets that he’s looked out of form, it’s just not worked for him, you got to feel sad that someone like him who has worked hard, got so many runs behind him during the recent domestic season is just not getting the desired results now,” he added.

In the post-match presentation, Ashwin was very curt in his assessment of the overseas batsmen in his side. With Gayle not able to find his free-scoring touch in the last few games, Aaron Finch and all-rounder Marcus Stoinis are not contributing either and the skipper hoped that changes soon.

“The next match is in Mumbai which has plenty of bounce and generally the foreign batsmen enjoy playing in those conditions, so hopefully our foreign batsmen will also come good,” he said.

Ashwin stressed on the importance of his players not losing hope and keep the belief that they can turn this around. He knows another defeat could spell the end of his sides playoff hopes, given their poor Net Run Rate, but he warned against ruling his side out.

“It’s very important to forget these 12 games and look forward to the remaining two. Most teams are in the same situation now – except for CSK and SRH (needing to win their last two matches). I believe we can be very dangerous at such times. Desperate teams can be dangerous to beat,” he said.

KXIP play Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede next, before finishing their league campaign on Sunday in Pune against Ashwin’s former franchise, Chennai Super Kings.