Tuesday, Sep 23, 2014

IPL 7 preview: George and his Kings

The Kings XI Punjab have emerged as unlikely heroes (Source: IPL/BCCI) With the likes of Maxwell, Miller, Bailey and Sharma performing consistently, Kings XI Punjab have emerged as the most destructive team in the ongoing season. (Source: IPL/BCCI)
Written by Sahil Malhotra | New Delhi | Posted: May 27, 2014 3:09 pm | Updated: May 28, 2014 4:33 pm

When George Bailey and Co. marched their way into the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on 18th April, very little did they know about what the game – against Chennai Super Kings, and the IPL, has in store for them.

For a franchise which had not tasted consistent success in the editions gone by, the seventh edition, especially after an impressive stint at the auctions, promised hope.

After scalping big fishes like Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Johnson and Virender Sehwag to name a few, the KXIP unit, even before they faced or bowled their first ball, signaled an early warning.

At least for them, half the battle was one in the air-conditioned room. With every knock of the hammer, the KXIP think tank built their team brick by brick. The pace battery was charged, there was enough turn in the tweakers and the batting, needless to say, was explosive, at least on paper.

Early signs 

The paper theory faced the litmus test very early in the tournament. A sunny afternoon and it was raining sixes in Abu Dhabi. In the CSK-KXIP contest, at least till the 13th over of the CSK innings, one would have murmured – ‘they (KXIP) just can’t win, no matter how big players they have. After all it’s CSK they are playing against’.

The score sheet read an impressive 123/0 in 12.3 overs and the likes of Johnson, Balaji and Awana were taken to the cleaners. The 13th over of the innings, where spinner Akshar Patel drew first blood, was the first moment of some joy for the KXIP unit, who were getting a stick in the middle.

At the innings break, with the CSK total reading a mammoth 205/4, it was time for now or never for Bailey and Co. It was important for them to get their campaign off to a good start and a win against the mighty CSK makes the start even better.

More than 10 runs required every over, and KXIP start didn’t bring any hope. Inside four overs, openers Cheteshwar Pujara and Virender Sehwag were back in the hut, and the asking rate, kept climbing. After an abrupt end to Sehwag’s breezy start, Glenn Maxwell walked out to the middle. He took guard and did something which set the tone for the tournament, both for him and the team.

Ashwin dished a carrom ball way down the leg-stump and Maxwell, instead of seeing it thud into MSD’s gloves, in complete control, without any trouble, reverse swept it to the boundary. Who does that? Maxwell does that.

They lost another wicket, but there was no stopping Maxwell who took off in Abu Dhabi, and is yet to land. A 43-ball 95, and KXIP were over the line with an over left to play. Boy oh boy, what a knock that was. An innings laced with 15 boundaries and two hits over the fence announced Maxwell’s and KXIP’s grand arrival in the seventh edition.

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High five! 

What followed next was mockery of the opposition bowling. Won by seven wickets, won by 72 runs, won by 23 runs, won by five wickets, and KXIP, in no time, extended their winning streak to five. Watch and react was something off their radar as they continued to do it the bang way!

Match after match they kept improving and unearthed the remaining potential in the squad, which was way more than just the Mad Max.

Sandeep Sharma’s exploits with the new ball, flashes of Sehwag-of-the-old at the top of the order, the ever reliable David Miller in the middle, the rookie spinner Akshar Patel, and the KXIP unit, in no time, developed the reputation of the team to beat.

Yes they did taste defeat, but held their own to not let it affect their overall performances. No matter how the playoffs leg unfolds, KXIP will be itching to settle scores with Mumbai Indians, who beat them in both their encounters. When it comes to scores, there is one which KXIP will be desperate to force in their favour. After crashing to a comprehensive nine-wicket defeat in their last league encounter against the Kolkata Knight Riders, the first play-off will give KXIP a shot at sweet revenge.

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The eDEN lions 

On paper, there is very little separating the two sides. It is like a man-to-man football marking. But if current form is taken into account, KKR, with seven consecutive wins under their belt and the added advantage of playing in front of a capacity Eden Gardens crowd, will give the explosive KXIP a run for their money. Not that KKR batsmen or KXIP bowlers are not good, but this contest will be decided by how KKR bowl and KXIP bat.

KXIP have scored at a tad over 9 (9.03) in the tournament so far and KKR have conceded an impressive 7.63 every over. If either team goes on to stick to the tournament pattern, the result will be an early conclusion.

Strength check

Maxwell: The aggressive right-hander was an obvious choice here. Though he has had a quiet second half, but what he showed us in the first half was something special. Many have started to believe that they have cracked the Maxwell code with leg-spin, but the right-hander will be out to prove his critics wrong and supporters right. Big match, big occasion, and a perfect setting for someone like Maxwell to fire all cylinders.

A disappointing second half is not something which one can read from his numbers, thanks to the bang bang start and a special knock in Ranchi. Even after scores of 0, 2, 14 in his last three outings, the right-hander, with 533 runs from 13 matches, sits pretty at the third position in the list of the highest run-getters. Also, his strike rate of 191.72 is head and shoulders above the rest, and he has hit the most number of sixes – 35 – in the tournament so far.

The weak chord 

Sehwag: Yes, you are reading his name under the right heading – ‘the weak chord’. In patches, he brought back the memories of the past. The hard slashes over point, push through covers, a pull with Sehwag-like elegance.
All of that, like a bubble, was short lived.

Apart from his 72 in a losing cause, the once belligerent opener has been a disappointing story. In a team where batsmen, from top to bottom, are making consistent and substantial contributions, Sehwag’s latest scores of 9, 18, 17, 23, 4 don’t make an impressive reading. If all goes the KXIP way, the Delhi dasher will have two shots to improve his 324-run tally and the not-so-Sehwag-like strike rate of 132.78.

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Surprise package 
Sandeep: KKR have been getting off to consistent starts. Their opening combination is finally into place, and the likes of Robin Uthappa and Gautam Gambhir have finally come to party, in style. If KXIP need to dictate terms against this unit, an early wicket will be the most crucial. And their Man Friday for this task will be this young Punjab seamer. Out of the 17 wickets he has taken so far, 12 have come in the first six overs.His ability to swing the ball both ways and beat the batsman with subtle variations in line and length make him the bowler to watch out for in this contest. He is not express, but very effective with the amount of swing he generates.

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