This match didn’t go into the Super Over, nor did it provide any of the frenzy, thrills and last-minute twists that Kings XI Punjab’s fans have been used to in this IPL. What they witnessed instead was a clinical performance from their team to a thumping 8-wicket win over the Kolkata Knight Riders – their fifth on the bounce. As a result, they took over fourth spot in the points table at the expense of Eoin Morgan’s side. It seemed highly unlikely a fortnight ago, when KXIP had just a solitary win from their first seven games. After an efficient bowling performance to restrict KKR for 149/9, their batting started slowly before Mandeep Singh’s unbeaten 66 and Chris Gayle 29-ball 51 settled matters.
Universe Boss tees off
The match was in the balance when Gayle walked out to bat. The Sharjah pitch was showing signs of wearing down and KKR mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy, buoyed by his maiden call-up to Team India’s T20 squad for the upcoming tour to Australia, had conned KL Rahul, the Orange Cap holder, with a vicious googly. With KXIP stuttering at 47/1 after 8 overs, the target of 150, which looked straightforward at the half-way stage, now looked distant. Rahul’s opening partner Mandeep was also struggling to hit it past the square.
So, what did Gayle do under these circumstances? He calmly clubbed back-to-back sixes off Chakravarthy in the 10th over to soothe the frayed nerves in the KXIP dugout. The first ball was overpitched, and deposited over the long-on fence. The second was bowled from around the wicket and was mistimed, but it cleared the rope with ease. These two shots were all that was needed to get KXIP’s chase back on track. Once Morgan brought in the pacers, especially Lockie Ferguson, batting became much easier. Resultantly, Mandeep found his groove and the two registered emphatic fifties to remove all doubt about the result. Kudos to Mandeep, who stayed back in the UAE despite the demise of his father a couple of days ago. The injury to Mayank Agarwal handed him an opportunity, which he accepted with glee.
Morgan-Gill’s partnership the lone bright spot for KKR
In the 12 matches so far, KKR openers have not managed a single 50-run partnership and the indifferent batting form of Rahul Tripathi, Nitish Rana and Dinesh Karthik has only compounded their woes. A similar sordid tale played out on Monday as Mohammed Shami’s brilliant exhibition of seam and swing bowling had KKR on the ropes at 10/3 before a counter-attacking partnership between Morgan and opener Shubman Gill gave them a semblance of hope.
Morgan was like a cat on a hot tin roof. He came out charging, all in an attempt to upset the lines and lengths of KXIP bowlers. With the smaller boundaries in Sharjah, the Irishman wanted to take the attack to the opposition. It didn’t matter to him that Shami was in the middle of a dream spell and had just exposed KKR’s brittle top order.
The KKR captain counter-attacked with his trademark cuts, swivels and pick-up shots through the leg-side. From 10/3 in two overs, KKR raced to 80/3 in 8 overs, and looked to be heading for a score around 200. Suddenly, Punjab’s bowlers were scrambling for cover and altering their plans to counter this onslaught. Morgan’s aggression rubbed off on Gill. The youngster targeted the shorter straight boundaries, and kick-started with a brace of sixes – first-up against Shami over long-on and following it up by thumping Murugan Ashwin over the mid-wicket region.
But this onslaught was short-lived as Morgan departed for a 25-ball-40 in the 10th over, playing a slog sweep against Ravi Bishnoi. One could have questioned Morgan’s shot selection, but that’s his approach in every innings. The 81-run partnership between Morgan and Gill was the highlight of KKR’s lacklustre batting effort. Once the captain departed, Punjab’s bowlers pounced on them like hawks. Gill registered his fifty and tried to anchor the innings, but got no support from the other end. Sunil Narine had flayed Delhi Capitals in the previous match, but looked out of depth here. The lack of firepower hurt KKR. From 91/4, they meandered to an underwhelming 149/9.
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