Kings XI Punjab had to defeat the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), a side they had failed to overcome in the last eight encounters, to stay in the hunt for a playoff berth in the 2017 Indian Premier League (IPL). After posting an underwhelming total of just 167/6 Kings XI were rescued by their bowlers, and for once their fielding.
History suggests that not many teams can defend less than 170 at Mohali but Kings XI managed to do just that, largely thanks to their spinners and in particular the unheralded Rahul Tewatia in his first match of the season. The former Rajasthan Royals leg-spinner had a brilliant night for his new side, which started with a quickfire 15 not out batting at number eight. He followed that up with figures of 2/18 from four overs including the big wickets of KKR captain Gautam Gambhir and the in-form Robin Uthappa.
Bowling in the middle overs, and working well with left-arm spin duo Axar Patel and Swapnil Singh, Tewatia managed to stifle the momentum KKR had built during the powerplay. Sunil Narine and Chris Lynn got the Knight Riders off to a typically flamboyant start but once Narine was dismissed the Kings XI spinners managed to keep a lid on Lynn’s scoring while building pressure on Gambhir.
The Kolkata captain eventually succumbed, holing out to the bowling of Tewatia. Two balls later Axar helped out his spin bowling mate by pulling of a blinder of a catch at deep midwicket to remove Uthappa first ball. Axar has been Glenn Maxwell’s go-to man with the ball, and a real rock for the Punjab side. Coming on in the powerplay against a rampaging Lynn was always going to be a tough ask but the reliable Axar didn’t let his captain down and only conceded 28 runs off in his four overs.
In total, the spin trio combined to take 2/65 from 10 overs and this passage of play turned the match in Kings XI’s favour, really building pressure on KKR and making life more difficult for Lynn who was more comfortable against the seamers.
Throughout the season, Kings XI have relied predominantly on their seamers, often going in with Axar as the lone tweaker with some support from the skipper. This tactic hasn’t always been successful and going in with three spinners proved to be a vital tactical change that kept the Kings season alive.
While the spinners started the momentum change, they needed their fast bowling teammates to back them up. Too often this season the seamers have wilted under the pressure of an assault from the opposition batsmen, and it looked like this would be the case again during the powerplay. To their credit Sandeep Sharma, Mohit Sharma, and first gamer Matt Henry responded brilliantly to finish off the spinners good work and deliver a crucial victory.
Despite the hard work of Tewatia, Axar and Swapnil the match was still in the balance late in the game and Mohit returned to snuff out the Knight Riders challenge by taking Yusuf Pathan’s wicket before Sandeep closed the match out with a fantastic last over that conceded only five runs.
Mohit’s success was based on trusting his variations and the KKR batsmen had no response to his plethora of slower deliveries. Very rarely did Mohit deliver a ball at full pace, thus not allowing the batsmen anything to work with. Mohit executed his three varieties of slower deliveries to perfection and kept the batsmen guessing with length as well. Not many bowlers can bowl a knuckle ball, back of the hand slower ball, and an off-cutter slower ball but Mohit has perfected all three and used them wisely to earn himself Man of the Match honours. It was the kind of performance Kings XI had been waiting for from their experienced seamer and go to death bowler.
While New Zealander Henry was a little expensive in his first outing for Kings XI, he responded well in his third over to remove the dangerous Manish Pandey, and in fairness he was also unlucky in his first spell. Brought in to bolster the brittle seam attack, Henry was serviceable in his first match and someone Kings XI should stick with to support Mohit and Sandeep.
Sandeep once again showed his class to recover from a first over where he conceded 14 to finish with figures of 0/31 including a sensational final over.
The Kings XI batsmen struggled and scraped to a mediocre total, and will now be thanking their bowlers for finally stepping up and sealing what could be a season-defining victory against good opposition.
With two games left Kings XI must still win both to make the playoffs, but if the bowlers continue the form they showed against the Knight Riders and the fielding is able to back it up again, then there is every chance they could see finals action in 2017.