As the scramble for the final-four placings gets fierce in IPL 7, Kings XI Punjab batsman Cheteshwar Pujara said that the table-toppers are eyeing a top-two finish to give themselves a one-game losing cushion in the play-offs.
“Definitely, our target is to be in top two because we get an extra game in the play-off. In case we lose the first play-off we get another opportunity to make it to the finals,” Pujara said.
Punjab are sitting pretty at the top followed by Chennai Super Kings. The Kings XI outfit, whose best performance earlier had been making it to the semi-finals of the 2008 inaugural edition, have emerged as favourites to lift the title.
“We are looking forward to winning the remaining games as momentum is important in this format. We want to go into the play-offs with a win,” the Saurashtra batsman said.
With Punjab suffering a loss at the hands of Mumbai Indians in Mohali on Wednesday, Pujara admitted that fortunes fluctuate in the T20 format.
“I think it is such a format that on a odd day you may not be as successful as you have been in the rest of the tournament. A couple of games you tend to lose and you will find it happening with other top teams like Chennai Super Kings,” he said.
Expressing his happiness with the kind of performance the team has put up this season, Pujara, who is playing for his third IPL franchise after featuring for Kolkata Knight Riders and Royal Challengers Bangalore earlier, said, “the kind of performance we have put up this season, people have really appreciated and even we are satisfied with the way things have gone for us.”
“We have a very good team and we are very positive that we will put up a very good show in the remaining games and then taking things forward we will try and do well in the first play-off so that we can straight away go to the finals and prepare well for the finals,” he added.
About losing the last match to Mumbai with Punjab’s middle-order faltering after a good start, Pujara said, “if you look at the track record, I think our batting line-up has been our strength.
You have one or two odd failures in the entire IPL. I don’t think it’s a major concern for us because overall we have batted very well in the entire tournament.”
Punjab has seen a classic revival this IPL season with players like Glenn Maxwell (530 runs) making a good impact so far. Pujara has credited the teams’ success to ‘smart buys’ by the team management in the February auctions.
“The important thing was the auction, the way the team was picked before the IPL started. We had a very good team on paper and after that, I think it’s the team combination and talent of the players, they played to their potential and I think team has got together, we have got a very good support, entire team is gelling together and we are playing to our strength,” said Pujara.
After wearing KKR and then RCB colours, Rajkot-born Pujara said that now he loves the Chandigarh connect. “It’s a great feeling, I have been to Chandigarh, I love being to Chandigarh and overall playing for Kings XI Punjab, it’s a great feeling. We are doing very well and hope our fans will keep supporting us and we will surely lift the title,” he said.
He also said that winning a game in Mohali means something special for the team.
“It is special. People in Punjab are supporting us and we are trying to live up to the expectations with the way we have performed in the UAE leg and now in India,” he said.
Another stylish batsman of Kings XI Mandeep Singh, who feels IPL is the best platform for making a mark at the international level, said the team has the right balance.
“This is the best platform, if you have to play for India you get to learn a lot here. Cheteshwar plays in Test matches, I take tips from him and other senior players and coaches. Then there are foreign players who are playing in the IPL, we get to know a lot about how they play and the diet they eat. Even fielding standard of our team has improved as we learn from others,” Mandeep said.
Punjab bowling coach Joe Dawes was all praise for young crop of bowlers like Sandeep Sharma.
“Young Sandeep is good. He has drawn a lot of attention. As an overall bowling unit, KXIP has done good,” he said.
KXIP’s fielding coach R Shridhar was pleased with the players for the standards they have set.
“I think the current crop of youngsters and even the seniors take their fielding seriously because it has become very important part of the cricketing skills. In this format sometimes only a few runs separate the winning and the losing team, so fielding is important,” he said.