As in-form opener Virender Sehwag fell cheaply, George Bailey promoted himself up the order. But the plan to come in at No.3 didn’t click. Sunil Narine got the KXIP skipper with his first ball. At 30/2 after 5.1 overs, Punjab needed quick runs. Everyone expected Glenn Maxwell to walk in next. The Punjab team management, however, preferred Wriddhiman Saha over the big-hitting Aussie and for the next 12 overs a full house at Chinnaswamy Stadium saw some unfettered aggression from two exciting young talent who put on 129 runs for the third wicket to give their team a real chance.
Saha and Manan Vohra eventually ended up on the losing side but they did make a mark. Saha finished with 362 runs in 17 matches at a strike-rate of 145.38. Vohra totalled 324 runs in eight matches at a strike-rate of 139.05.
Like the two, their team mate Akshar Patel too will always remember Season 7. The 20-year-old left-arm spinner returned with an economy rate of 5.25 from the final – exceptional, put into the context of a match where every other bowler save Kolkata’s Shakib Al Hasan conceded at close to 10 runs per over or more. Patel was outstanding throughout the tournament with 17 wickets from as many matches at an economy rate of 6.13.
Then there’s Sandeep Sharma, who was left out for the final but was given enough game time in the tournament to take 18 wickets to impress everyone. Rishi Dhawan, too, played 13 matches.
The Punjab team management must be lauded for reposing faith in youth, ignoring reputation. They had Cheteshwar Pujara to open the innings, but once Vohra stepped up to the plate, he was persisted with. Punjab had a very experienced left-arm spinner in Murali Kartik but he was used only in two matches. They also never hesitated to drop old hand Lakshmipathy Balaji and field Sharma, though the former got the nod for the title showdown.
Punjab failed to bag the title but they were the most exciting side of the tournament by a distance. More importantly, they made stars out of unknowns. There’s a striking similarity to this Punjab team with Rajasthan Royals that won the title in the inaugural season. The likes of Ravindra Jadeja, Yusuf Pathan and Shane Watson were unearthed by the then Rajasthan captain Shane Warne. KXIP might not have been a champions side but it certainly seems like a side full of potentially champion players.
(Shamik is a principal correspondent based in Kolkata)