For the second time this Indian Premier League season, Hashim Amla struck a glorious hundred for Kings XI Punjab, and for the second time this tournament, his team’s bowlers were unable to defend a strong total on the back of the South African’s batting heroics.
Amla’s brilliant 104 came off just 60 balls and was pivotal in Kings XI posting a formidable 189/3 in Mohali on Sunday night. With Shaun Marsh (58 off 43) for company, Amla put the weak Gujarat Lions bowling attack to the sword, picking the gaps at will and even going over the top and clearing the ropes on five occasions.
Unfortunately, the Kings XI bowlers weren’t able to back up the efforts of Amla and Marsh, bowling erratically and without consistency to allow Gujarat to chase down the total with two balls to spare just four wickets down. Not only did the bowling lack penetration, but the fielding, particularly the catching was abysmal from the home side. In a tight game you have to do everything right in the field, and once again Kings XI were sloppy in a pressure situation with a series of misfields and drop catches proving costly.
Players known for having safe hands, David Miller (sub fielding for Amla) and Gurkeerat Singh Mann dropped easy chances to allow Gujarat’s batsmen a lifeline. Dwayne Smith took full advantage of his two chances to really put the pressure on the Kings XI bowlers by pummelling them to all parts.
Smith blasted 74 off just 39 balls and made the most of a bowling attack and captain that seemed bereft of ideas. Smith can be vulnerable early in his innings to the ball that is pitched up and swinging, but none of the Punjab bowlers seemed willing to pitch up to the West Indian in the powerplay. Sandeep Sharma, a great exponent of swing bowling, went away from his main strength of bowling full and instead stuck to back of length to Smith, perhaps fearful of his power and ability to hit anything pitched up back over the bowlers head.
This defensive mindset and tactic allowed Smith to settle and tick the strike over, while still lashing out and punishing anything slightly full or wide. Once he was into his groove he continued to punish the Kings XI bowlers, both pace and spin, and set his side well on the path to victory.
Kings XI’s seamers in particular have struggled when trying to defend a total this IPL, and once again it was the third and fourth seamers who couldn’t perform their role in the side.
Speedster Varun Aaron was expensive again, conceding 43 off his four overs, and his lack of control will be a worry for Glenn Maxwell and the Kings XI think-tank. Young left-armer T Natarajan has shown promise this IPL but the pressure got to the youngster as he sent down two consecutive wides in the last over to allow the Lions to get over the line.
Sandeep Sharma has been Kings XI’s best this season and was once again the standout, but the match turning moment involved the medium pacer being no-balled for bowling around the wicket, supposedly without informing the umpire. The free hit escaped punishment but the extra delivery at the end of the over was struck to the boundary by Smith.
The controversial decision left Sandeep fuming, and captain Maxwell was also visibly irate. The Australian had stern words with both umpires on more than one occasion and the incident clearly left him flustered and frustrated. A moment that could have galvanised the Kings XI instead rattled them, with Miller’s crucial dropped chance off Smith occurring in the next over.
A more experienced and level-headed leader might have been able to stay calm and keep his troops focused, but rookie skipper Maxwell’s emotions got the better of him and he was seen remonstrating with the umpires a few overs later during the time-out. The momentum seemed to turn after Sandeep’s no-ball and Smith’s first lifeline, and the Kings XI fell apart in the field after that with Gurkeerat later dropping Smith again, as well as Lions captain Suresh Raina.
As the fielding standards deteriorated the frustration was evident on the face of Maxwell, no doubt the captain could feel the season slipping away. His side got themselves back into the game late, but once again a few crucial misfields and errors cost them a chance of securing a much-needed victory.
Kings XI now have three games remaining, and must win them all to qualify for the playoffs. They will have to achieve this without two-time centurion Amla, as well as David Miller as the two South Africans leave the IPL. With their bowling depth still a worry, it is possible Matt Henry might come in to take one of the overseas player slots.
So far this tournament, Kings XI have managed to show real character and fight back from tough positions, they will need to do that one more time and finally string some consistency together for their last three matches if they have any hope of making an impact on the business end of the tournament.