They were staring down the barrel at the halfway mark of the league stage, but Kings XI Punjab have made a roaring comeback in the IPL and currently sit among the top four teams. Five consecutive losses have been followed by five successive wins. With matches against Rajasthan Royals and already-eliminated Chennai Super Kings to play, KXIP will fancy their chances of a first playoff spot since 2014. Here are a few factors behind the stunning turnaround.
Game of small margins
During the first half of the league stage, KXIP were finding ways to lose games from winning positions. They couldn’t score one run off three balls in their opening game against Delhi Capitals, couldn’t defend 223 against Rajasthan Royals, and couldn’t get 21 off 17 balls with nine wickets standing against Kolkata Knight Riders.
It shows that they were not playing poor cricket, but were not able to close out games.
But once they staggered over the line with a last-ball six against Royal Challengers Bangalore, things turned around. KXIP even started winning games from losing positions (e.g. the Super Over heist against Mumbai Indians and successfully defending 126 against Sunrisers Hyderabad despite David Warner and Jonny Bairstow putting on more than 50 for the first wicket).
Once their belief and confidence were restored, Kings XI have been a transformed unit.
Return of the Boss
He is 40 years old, and not the player he was in his prime. But Chris Gayle can still be relied upon to do the job. Coming into the XI with the side’s fortunes going downhill, his experience and swagger have been invaluable.
Batting at No.3, he has taken a lot of pressure off skipper K L Rahul. Gayle knows which bowlers to target and when. He is especially useful in a chase as was the case against Delhi Capitals – he took down seamer Tushar Deshpande for 26 runs in an over to change the complexion of the game — and the KKR spinners in Monday’s game.
Pooran steps up
Nicholas Pooran has often been a hit-or-miss player in his career. Shot selection has let him down on more than one occasion – like it did in an earlier game against KKR when an ill-advised shot against Sunil Narine turned the tables against his side.
But the left-hander has learnt his lesson and chose his shots wisely as against Delhi Capitals. Pooran’s range of shots and big-hitting prowess have added another dimension in the KXIP batting line-up.
New kid on the block
Mohammed Shami has been a stellar performer for KXIP throughout the season, but was hardly getting any support. Sheldon Cottrell was impressive at times, getting the ball to move at the start, but was profligate at the death (remember how Rajasthan Royals’ Rahul Tewatia hit him for five sixes in an over).
But 20-year-old Arshdeep Singh has answered the call since coming into the side. He bowls the tough overs – inside the Powerplay and at the death – and has hardly been taken down yet.
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Spin it to win it
With Anil Kumble as head coach, it’s no surprise that he has put his faith in spinners Murugan Ashwin and Ravi Bishnoi.
The latter has shown great composure and confidence against big names. In Monday’s game against KKR, both bounced back in superb fashion after being targeted by Eoin Morgan and Shubman Gill.
The two tweakers have been a big source of wickets in the middle overs and also kept batsmen in check as their variations have been difficult to read. They have even managed to keep someone like Mujeeb ur Rahman out of the team.
Maxwell with the ball
Glenn Maxwell is acclaimed as a gamechanger with the bat, but has been disappointing in that regard this season. But he has been useful with the ball. The Aussie has often opened the bowling for the team, operating from around the wicket.
Against Delhi Capitals, he bowled his full quota of four overs for a respectable 31 runs, while scalping the big wicket of Rishabh Pant. Against high-flying Mumbai Indians, Maxwell conceded just 24 in his four overs and only 28 against Virat Kohli’s RCB.
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He has thus added another worthwhile option in the attack, allowing Rahul to protect any other bowler who may be having an off day.