In the top run-scorers list for the 13th edition of Indian Premier League currently, Kings XI Punjab have two entries in the top three: captain KL Rahul and his best mate, on and off the field, Mayank Agarwal.
In the top wicket-takers list, KXIP have Mohammed Shami placed at No 5 while Ravi Bishnoi has the joint-best returns for an uncapped player and is already a strong contender for walking away with the emerging player of the year award.
In Nicholas Pooran, they have arguably one of the best young T20 batsman in the world and he stands second in the list of six-hitters for the season, behind only Sanju Samson.
The fact that, despite all of the above, KXIP are last on the points table with five defeats in six matches is a damning indictment of how the players have not been able to collectively deliver in a match.
In Rahul’s first season as captain and Anil Kumble’s return to the league as a coach, it would be fair to say that the team looks lost for now.
The most obvious indication that a team is struggling to figure out their best combination is in the number of players they end up using over a season. Close to the halfway mark of this season, Punjab have already used 18 different players while at the other extreme, table-toppers Mumbai Indians have used just 12.
Number of players used by each team so far at IPL 2020:
Of course, as the cliche goes, winning teams are not changed often but even so, Punjab have chopped and changed way too much in the early stages, not just with their playing XIs but also with roles assigned to players.
Sheldon Cottrell and Jimmy Neesham, who do not boast the best of death bowling numbers, have been given crucial overs at the death that have cost them matches. In the last three outings, KXIP have walked out with three different wicket-keepers with Anil Kumble suggesting Rahul does not want to don the gloves anymore after the first couple of matches.
Off-spinner K Gowtham was handed the last over of the innings when Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya were in the mood for big hits. These are just some of the instances were the team’s think-tank has not come up with the best of tactics.
At the end of the match against fellow strugglers Chennai Super Kings, Rahul was seen having a long chat with MS Dhoni on the field. One can only wonder what was discussed, but if Rahul was seeking advice from one of the best leaders this tournament has seen, he would do well to quickly identify a core group of players and persist with them for a few matches on the trot.
Lack of wicket-takers
Between Rohit Sharma’s dismissal at the start of the 17th over in their fourth match and David Warner’s dismissal at start of the 16th over in their sixth match, KXIP bowled 36.4 overs without picking up a wicket. In the duration, they conceded 408 runs at a rate of more than 11 an over.
Those are astonishing numbers and, without any caveats, prove how the KXIP bowlers have struggled in the last few matches.
Even when SRH lost a bunch of quick wickets at the end, the scoring rate did not exactly die down. From 160/0 at the end of 15 overs, SRH scored 41 in the last five and 26 in the last two. Rahul spoke about how the bowlers stepped up at the end to buck the trend of going for plenty at the death, but the standards of comparing are pretty low evidently.
With Mujeeb back in the line-up, as he should have been from the start, KXIP must hope for early wickets going forward in the tournament.
It is quite amazing that with three of their batsmen in such good form, KXIP have won just one match so far. Agarwal, Rahul and Pooran have looked in wonderful touch but none of them have been able to take their side past the finish line in the five matches that the team lost. Glenn Maxwell has not been able to live up to the X-factor reputation and in all likelihood, will make way for Chris Gayle when the West Indies legend is back fit and available for selection. In Sarfaraz Khan, they have a batsman who has been dropped without really given a good run in the side. And on Thursday, the team had Mujeeb ur Rehman batting at No 7 — resembling a line-up with five No 11 batsmen following their top six.
The one match that KXIP won, Rahul played arguably the best knock of the tournament so far, smashing an unbeaten 132* against RCB at a Strike Rate of 191.
It was, therefore, a bit to hear what he had to say after the defeat against SRH.
“Strike-rates are very, very overrated,” Rahul said after the game. “For me, it’s only about how I can win games for my team. And if on a certain day I think a strike-rate of 120 can win the game for my team, I will do that. This is how I bat and I would like to take responsibility as a leader. We all make mistakes, I’m not saying I have not made a few mistakes but you learn each day as a leader, as a batter.”
But by that same logic, isn’t it better for KXIP’s fortunes if their best batsman plays with the freedom that this format demands? How many matches will Rahul win for his team batting at, as he mentions, around a SR of 120? The T20 game has evolved beyond basic stat metrics for sure and a simplistic view of SR is perhaps not enough to analyse the game but surely some things in the game are simple even now? That a team’s top batsman, playing as an opener, should set the tone for the side rather than react and play catch-up?
It remains to be seen if the imminent return of Chris Gayle makes Rahul play more freely at the top, knowing there’s the reassurance of Agarwal and Pooran to come after them. But for all intents and purposes, this is a muddled approach to T20 batting that Rahul seems to be embracing at the moment and KXIP will only benefit if he snaps out of that.
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