Kings XI Punjab have suffered their first loss of the 2017 Indian Premier League, succumbing to an eight-wicket defeat at the hands of the Kolkata Knight Riders at Eden Gardens. The loss was Kings XI’s eighth in a row against the Knight Riders.
The first match played at Eden Gardens this IPL season was on a surface that offered pace, bounce and movement to the faster bowlers which saw Kings XI include Indian Test quick Ishant Sharma at the expense of young left-arm seamer T Natarajan. Natarajan was poor in his one over against Royal Challengers Bangalore and Glenn Maxwell opted for the more experienced Ishant despite his poor IPL record.
Kings XI lost the toss and were sent in to bat first for the first time in the tournament in what was always going to be a tough test against a strong Kolkata side. Batting first and setting a decent total has proven to be tough so far this IPL and was once again the case with Kings XI, who squandered a good start from Manan Vohra and Hashim Amla to be restricted to 170/9.
Vohra’s aggressive strokeplay at the top of the order has been a feature for Kings XI in recent seasons but far too often he is guilty of throwing his wicket away after a good start and against KKR was no different. Despite Vohra’s lack of thought behind his shot selection, Kings XI still would have been pleased to reach 57/1 at the end of the powerplay.
Vohra’s dismissal brought Marcus Stoinis to the crease, the hulking Australian became Kings XI’s third number three in three games. Perhaps skipper Maxwell is a fan of symmetry in numbers, but the thinking behind constantly chopping and changing the first drop position is hard to grasp. One can only assume Maxwell wanted his Australian teammate to spend some time at the crease and find some form in this tournament, and he would be more suited facing the faster men at the top of the order. Unfortunately, Stoinis struggled against the spin of Sunil Narine and Piyush Chawla and was dismissed for a scratchy nine off 12 deliveries.
In hindsight Stoinis’ power would have been better suited lower down the order, where he would have been able to try and finish the innings against KKR’s seamers Trent Boult and Chris Woakes — bowlers he would have felt more comfortable against.
Kings XI will need to find someone to settle at number three, and Wriddhiman Saha is their best bet. The wicketkeeper-batsman has been successful in that role before for Kings XI and his all-round competence against pace and spin would be better suited to the position than Stoinis and Axar Patel.
Saha looked good during his innings of 25 off 17, but he along with skipper Maxwell and South African David Miller fell victim to Umesh Yadav in his first game back in the purple and gold. While it is Maxwell’s attacking instincts that make him such a destructive T20 batsman, and it is clear he wants to mould this side in his own image, some more level-headed thinking would have been welcome when he played a loose swipe against Umesh just a few balls after Amla had departed.
Kings XI were unable to gain any momentum as they lost wickets at regular intervals and their final score was at least 20 short of what they would have liked, and what they would have expected after Vohra’s swashbuckling start.
Gautam Gambhir’s proactive captaincy was a feature of Kolkata’s fielding innings and his out of the box thinking continued when he decided to open the batting with Narine. KKR’s unexpected opening partnership put Kings XI on the backfoot as Narine, after a few loose wafts against Sandeep Sharma in the first over, was able to line up KXIP’s battalion of right-arm seamers and find the boundary seven times (4x4, 3x6) in his innings of 37 off just 18 balls.
The match pitted an experienced captain against a rookie and it was the senior man Gambhir who had the better day with the bat, and as a leader. Gambhir’s rotation of bowlers and innovative captaincy put Maxwell and Kings XI on the back foot and exposed their ability to defend a below par total on a good, even paced pitch.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and Maxwell along with coach Virender Sehwag will look back at their team selection, and batting order and wonder if they should have done things differently. Certainly, some of the batsmen’s shot selection will come under scrutiny.
Despite the humbling loss Kings XI have started the season well, but from defeat always comes opportunities to learn and get better. Kings XI will know they need to get smarter.