By Carl Jaison:
Kings XI Punjab has surprised one and all by their spirited performance in the ongoing IPL. Largely, the positivity in their body language must be attributed to their jovial skipper George Bailey, who even while keeping a low-profile for himself has ensured that his team captured the maximum attention of the cricket-frenzy supporters. While the team composition has changed considerably, the presence of their franchisee owner Preity Zinta has rekindled a new hope among the players in the camp who have also benefited from their underdog status compared to the full-on media glare on the much fancied RCB outfit.
Another edge for them has been Glenn Maxwell who has taken the IPL by storm with his unprecedented pinch-hitting that has earned him a sizeable increase in fan-base. However, the Aussie batsman struggled to replicate his initial scintillating form in the latter part of the tournament, failing to preserve his wicket after a series of paltry innings. Incidentally, he has found the going tough against the Gambhir-led Kolkata Knight Riders, the only team so far which has been able to stem the Maxwell juggernaut and also whom the KXIP is pitted against in the first play-off match.
The contributions of David Miller, Virender Sehwag and Manan Vohra shouldn’t pass unnoticed as all three of them have showcased their worth and added to the overall strength of the unit. While the domestic players like Rishi Dhawan, Wriddhiman Saha, Sandeep Sharma, Aksar Patel have delivered admirably, an area of concern has been their death bowling especially while defending targets.
Though Mitchell Johnson was expected to play a much bigger role as the leading seamer, he has managed to quietly work his way towards a decent showing. In the match against RR, the KXIP bowlers leaked close to 40 runs in the last 2 overs, something which they will have to look into considering the outstanding form of the KKR batsmen. It will be interesting to see how KXIP cope up with the early losses of Miller and Maxwell as they haven’t quite found themselves in such a position yet.
KKR, on the other hand, has seen a refreshing change of fortunes since the time their wicket-keeper batsman Robin Uthappa struck form. Uthappa has raced his way to become the leading run-scorer in the tournament eclipsing Maxwell’s tally and emerging as the new custodian of the Orange Cap. After a poor start with the bat, Gambhir knew his own form would be crucial to KKR’s chances to qualify. The captain has rediscovered his sublime touch and has been involved in a couple of match-winning partnerships with Uthappa. Yusuf Pathan’s innings send the SRH bowlers running for cover as he demolished their star bowler Dale Steyn plundering him for boundaries at will. With that performance, the KKR camp can heave a huge sigh of relief since there were apprehensions about their middle-order batsmen delivering in crunch situations.
Despite the decent batting form of their foreign buys including Shakib Al Hasan, it is KKR’s bowlers who’ve stepped up to the task in hand. Led by the mystery spinner Sunil Narine, the bowling attack has shown great poise and composure to restrict and defend scores, at times even winning matches out of impossible situations. However, in this battle between KXIP’s batting and KKR’s bowling, the match may be decided by how well they release their respective second strengths. Going by the current run of form, KXIP might fancy their chances but the momentum is with KKR and their experience of playing in this phase of the league will hold them in good stead.