For a long time now, the rule of thumb with Kings XI Punjab has been: If Glenn Maxwell makes runs, the team wins. Granted, runs for Maxwell have been pretty rare, but when they come they have tended to be decisive. Against Mumbai Indians on Monday night in Mohali, he made an excellent half-century but his team still lost, and that was because the bowlers had already thrown the game away with a lacklustre performance.
Poor Sandeep Sharma. He bowled brilliantly well for Kings XI Punjab as the rest of his team let him down badly. While he conceded just 20 runs in his four overs, the other bowlers conceded twice that rate. Mohit Sharma did come back well in his last over and was unlucky to come up against an innovative Jos Buttler, but the other bowlers bowled an inconsistent line, variable lengths, and didn't bowl to their field.
Comedy fielding didn't help matters, with Ambati Rayudu and Parthiv Patel both dropped on their way to half-centuries. Patel was also dismissed off a no-ball before scoring his highest IPL score, a well-paced 81 off 58 balls.
It started well though. The second ball of the match saw the wicket of Rohit Sharma, Mumbai Indians' leading run-scorer of the tournament. That solitary moment of hope was about all that the home crowd had to cheer, as the visitors helped themselves to 189-6 off their 20 overs. Sandeep bowled three overs in the PowerPlay and was fantastic, conceding just one boundary inside the fielding restrictions. He just didn't get any support.
Having had such limited success in this tournament so far, it is not surprising that Kings XI are still searching for the right combination. For the match against Mumbai Indians, they left out Kyle Abbott after underwhelming returns in the three matches he had played and replaced him with Mitchell Johnson, who has been just as short of any real penetration in his bowling. That glorious period during 2013 and 2014 where Johnson was the most destructive bowler in world cricket seemed like a long time ago, and on Monday, he bowled a mixture of long hops and half volleys at about 135kph.
190 was a stiff target, but no team has chased such large totals in the IPL as often as Kings XI Punjab, who have successfully chased 190 or more six times — three of these coming in 2014, when Maxwell and David Miller were in form. And though the duo struggled in IPL 2015 and the first half of this edition, it does not mean the team is incapable of winning matches. Far too often over the last one-and-a-half seasons, it has been Shaun Marsh playing a lone hand as those around him failed.
On Monday, a partnership between Marsh and Maxwell helped keep KXIP in the hunt after the openers had gone early. Maxwell was still attempting the odd reverse swipe but for the most part he was looking to hit in more traditional areas and looked a better player for it. It seems strange to say that a batsman looked becalmed as he was scoring at a strike rate of 150, but Maxwell hits the ball so hard that he can ease up and still score as quick as anyone else in the world. He played himself in and cut out the more outrageous shots and still made 56 from 39 balls. He can become a consistent match winner by playing this way. For all the excitement that Maxwell has generated, he has never made runs regularly in India — this was just his second IPL half-century in India in 33 innings.
At the other end, Shaun Marsh was showing why he is the most successful batsman in the franchise's history, scoring 45 from 34 balls. As soon as he had a partner stay with him, KXIP looked like a completely different batting line-up. Had the bowling been better, they would have cruised to victory. Their 89-run partnership in 10.1 overs gave their team a chance, but realistically the target was always 20 runs too many.
If the two Australians had been batting at the end of the game, their team could have still emerged victorious, but when they both departed in quick succession, the game was over as a contest. The out-of-form David Miller continued to look out of form, but did look better than at any point so far in this year's tournament, scoring 30 not out.
Now let's try and find some positives. If you ignore the bowling and the fielding, this was a decent game for the team at the bottom of the table. Now that is a big "if", but the point stands. Their only win in IPL 9 came when they were chasing a sub-par total against fellow strugglers Rising Pune Supergiants.
Runs for Marsh and Maxwell meant that Kings XI were in the match for most of second innings on Monday and a glimpse of something decent from Miller gives you some hope he will find his feet soon. This was also the highest total the Kings XI Punjab have made so far in this tournament, and on another day they would have lost by a lot more than 24 runs.
The bowling though, that was bad. At the end of this game, Sandeep Sharma should ask the other members of the bowling unit for a written apology. He really didn't deserve to be on the losing side and the reason he was part of the team that finished second best on Monday is because his colleagues let him and themselves down.