A superb bowling performance from the Kings XI Punjab and some lacklustre batting from the Kolkata Knight Riders were the decisive factors in a pivotal 23-run victory for the Punjabi team in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, April 26.
Not one Kings XI bowler conceded more than seven runs per over as they defended 132; the lowest total successfully defended this season.
Sandeep Sharma’s excellent new-ball spell pegged the Knight Riders chase back early on, but the entire bowling attack contributed for Kings XI in a massively encouraging victory for a team that have thus far been winning matches through weight of runs, rather than frugal bowling.
However, they owe much to the ineptitude of KKR for their victory, with their fragile and confused top order succumbing for the second time this week.
Captain Gautam Gambhir, batting one place down the order at three, narrowly avoided the ignominy of four consecutive ducks when he was dropped on nought, but things hardly got much better when he was dismissed for one just balls later.
Indeed, Gambhir’s struggles offer a telling glance into the woes of a franchise that appear to lie in players such as Gambhir, and also Yusuf Pathan, being selected despite being far from deserving of a place in the side.
Gambhir is a difficult one, because he is the captain, and has been for some time now, as well as the lynchpin at the top of the order, but if he is not to be dropped, then he must surely slide down the order until he recovers form because time and time again his failures are setting KKR off terribly.
Yusuf’s position is far less secure—he has scored just 15 runs in three innings this season and with Manvinder Bisla waiting in the wings (who admittedly has only played three innings since IPL 6 but is a player who has performed for KKR in the past), his time is surely running out.
Yet away from the struggles of KKR, Kings XI were superb.
Sandeep, Mitchell Johnson, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Rishi Dhawan and Akshar Patel combined wonderfully, mixing pace, spin, guile, seam and swing on a pitch that became progressively difficult throughout the day. Johnson’s impressive blitz of the lower order will also encourage, with him appearing a little short of his best thus far, having been recovering from the toe infection that ruled him out of the World T20.
They were also supreme in the field, taking catches, stampings and run-outs. They certainly proved that they were not the one-trick pony many initially felt they were.
Worries still linger over the form of Virender Sehwag, who, despite scoring 37, looked out of touch, and Cheteshwar Pujara who scored just eight.
But generally speaking with the power available in the batting department presented by Glenn Maxwell, David Miller and George Bailey, one disappointing showing shouldn't force any changes—although Pujara increasingly appears an ill-fit, but he does at least provide some stability to a volatile line-up.
Moving forward, KXIP will hope their bowlers perform as they did Saturday, but rarely will they be assisted so much by the opposition and the pitch. Yet many doubted Kings XI’s credentials prior to the season, and their explosive batting has already changed a few minds, and their bowling against KKR will no doubt have changed a few more.
With four wins from four, few are doubting the quality of the Kings XI, but perhaps the biggest cloud hanging over them is their inexperience in crunch matches that they will face later in the season if they do qualify for the play-off stage.
They have only once qualified for the second stage of the IPL when they crashed out in the semi-finals in 2008. They’re well on the way to matching that this season; whether they surpass that may well come down to their ability to deal with pressure.