A total in the range of mid-160 is no longer considered imposing in T20 cricket. This format of the game has evolved rapidly. So maybe, Pune, 163 for six, never had enough runs on the board. Bereft of match-winning new-ball bowlers, their chances of staying in the game depended on Imran Tahir. You might question the collective wisdom of the IPL franchises to ignore the South African leggie in the first place at the auction before Punjab picked him as an afterthought.
After having a fine opening game against Mumbai Indians, where he bagged three wickets, here also Tahir settled into a nice rhythm and made things difficult for Punjab. The wrong’un to dismiss Wriddhiman Saha was the ball of the match. And Axar Patel’s – the left-hander was promoted as a counter-ploy to Tahir’s leg-spin — scalp made the contest pretty open. A response was needed to negate Tahir and the Punjab skipper did it the typical Maxwell style. He started off with a six against Rahul Chahar and then had a four and a six against Stokes; but from his team’s point of view it was important to take care of the opposition’s main strike bowler in his final over.
David Miller took a single in the first ball. Over to Maxwell, and the leggie went faster and flatter. Maxwell rocked back and sent it over deep mid-wicket. Tahir bowled even shorter and Maxwell hit it even harder. Fifteen runs were taken from that over and the equation for Punjab came down to 21 off 24. Done and dusted.
Last month, Maxwell had eschewed his attacking intent to score his maiden Test hundred at Ranchi. On Saturday, he revelled in a format where he is called a specialist. Maxwell remained unbeaten on 44 off 20 balls and walked away with the Man of the Match award.
Sandeep Sharma swings the new ball prodigiously, which is a reason why he has been so successful in power-play overs (31 wickets). Sharma breached Mayank Agarwal’s defence with an inswinger that went through the gate and rattled the stumps. Punjab had a perfect start after winning the toss and electing to field.
Only seven runs had been scored in the first three overs and a seemingly restless Rahane decided to take on Mohit. He charged down the deck but failed to connect. Mohit altered the length and induced a leading edge, but debutant T Natarajan stood statuesque at extra cover. Manan Vohra ran backwards and tried to take the catch but couldn’t hold on to it. A frustrated Mohit made the mistake of bowling a bouncer to India’s best hooker and puller. Rahane sent it five rows back over fine leg. Smith also joined the party with two delectable boundaries off Sandeep, but it wasn’t going to be their afternoon.
Natarajan, a Rs 3-crore acquisition at the auction, came after six overs. He looked a tad clumsy in his black and blue bowling shoes, stuttered a little in his run up but accounted for Rahane off his second ball. The mistimed shot found Marcus Stoinis at sweeper cover. Then, Stoinis got rid of Smith with a pretty innocuous delivery. The ball angled in and Smith picked it very well, but he picked the fielder, Vohra, at deep backward square. For a change, the Supergiant captain failed.
Big Ben chimes
At 49 for three, things were set up ‘nicely’ for MS Dhoni to build his innings . Dhoni likes to play himself in these days before throwing the kitchen sink. But the pitch had become sluggish by then and the odd ball was stopping. Dhoni tried to check his drive against left-arm spinner Swapnil Singh but the ball still popped up and went to the bowler, who took the catch on the fourth attempt. Dhoni was gone for an 11-ball five. More importantly, for Pune, only Ben Stokes was the last galactico standing.
The pitch and the situation weren’t ideal for carefree stuff and Stokes had been waiting for the loose deliveries. Axar Patel bowled a couple in the 14th over and had been clobbered for a four and a six. Stoinis came and was slapped over the long-on fence for another maximum. Half-century came in 30 balls but Patel settled the score, firing one wide outside the off stump and taking a return catch. Big Ben didn’t quite chime in high octane but struck a glitch-free note that helped Pune post a competitive total.
Brief Scores: Rising Pune Supergiant 163/6 in 20 overs (B Stokes 50, M Tiwary 40 not out) lost to Kings XI Punjab 164/4 in 19 overs (Maxwell 44 not out, Miller, 30 not out) by six wickets