How often have you seen a bowler pick up four wickets for 16 runs in a T20 game and end up on the losing side? For Andrew Tye, this struggle is all too real. The Australian pacer is on course to win the Purple Cap with a tally of 24 wickets in 13 matches so far. But finishing with most wickets in the foremost franchise league in world cricket will only be a consolation prize.
In three of the past four games, Tye has repeatedly lived out this nightmare situation for a T20 bowler. Sample his figures: 4/34 against Rajasthan Royals, 4/41 against Kolkata Knight Riders and now 4/16 against Mumbai Indians on Wednesday night. It is a rich vein of bowling form sufficient to help his side win. Instead, Punjab lost all those three games.
At least, Tye wasn’t alone in what can only be described as repeated heartbreak. Against Rajasthan, KL Rahul scored 95 not out off 60 balls and yet couldn’t get his team past the finish line. Against Kolkata, he scored 66 off 29 balls but the 246-run target was too high for a singular in-form batsman. Against Mumbai at the Wankhede, just like Tye, Rahul put in another spectacular batting display – 94 off 60 balls. The result though was not different.
Funnily enough, Rahul too wears the Orange Cap with 652 runs in 13 matches. Both him and Tye have sizeable leads over their next competitors, yet it goes to show two things. One, individual brilliance, even when consistently doubled up with both bat and ball, isn’t enough to help win T20 matches especially in a closely fought, unpredictable season.
Two, despite two dependably consistent and stellar performers, Kings XI Punjab have done everything in their power to horribly mess up their chances of a Playoffs berth. Never mind losing against Rajasthan and Kolkata, at the start of this week too they were in control of their own destiny with three games to play. They have lost two of them already, against Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians, and now face an upward task against Chennai Super Kings in their last league game on Sunday.
It doesn’t help either that Punjab’s Net Run Rate took a massive hit against Bangalore too, leaving them as low as sixth in the league table at the moment. If Virat Kohli leads his side to another victory against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Thursday, Punjab will sink lower to seventh on run-rate, such is their misery at present. At this point, you only have to wonder – where did it all go wrong?
Once again, the mind goes back to that moment against Rajasthan Royals when R Ashwin was promoted to number three for no reason, and that thoughtless, incoherent promotion damaged their batting order in such fashion that the chase never recovered. It has been downhill since then, as pointed out previously in this writer’s blog, and things didn’t change one bit at the Wankhede Stadium last night.
At the business end of the tournament, Punjab should have looked for consistency in thought-process and performances both on and off the field. They have done anything but that, resulting in some exasperating calls. Take this Mumbai game for example. After three successive, confidence-sapping losses, Punjab tried to force the situation at hand, bringing in Yuvraj Singh and Manoj Tiwary into the playing eleven.
This was an unjustifiable call, whichever way you look at it. In the seven previous appearances this season, Yuvraj had scored a paltry 64 runs and looked an aberration of his past glorious self. On Thursday, it was no different as he scored one run off three balls, struggling to put bat to ball at a time when Punjab needed the most magnificent six-hitter T20 cricket first witnessed in 2007.
Tiway, meanwhile, had scored 8 runs in his previous three outings and finished four not out yesterday as he was sent out to bat in the last over. This is the confusing bit. For all their inconsistencies, both Nair and Agarwal were at least striking the ball well. In 12 games, Nair boasted a strike-rate of 126.66 while Agarwal had a strike-rate of 127.65 in 11 matches. Even if they couldn’t muster big runs, there is a small chance that they were confident enough of hitting the ball from the word go, particularly when compared with both Yuvraj and Tiwary.
Additionally, if either of them had been in the playing eleven, one can bet good money that they would have been sent to bat ahead of Axar Patel when 36 runs were needed off 16 balls and Rahul was crying out for some help at the other end. When you drop both Nair and Agarwal, instead opt for Yuvraj-Tiwary and still do not give them an opportunity to bat ahead of Patel, it is a gross miscalculation on part of the team management.
It is the kind of decision that gets you knocked out of the tournament, and is on par with that inexplicable promotion at Jaipur. The team management at Kings XI Punjab, including skipper Ashwin and mentor Virender Sehwag, has taken some brave calls this season. These include backing Chris Gayle when no one would touch him and playing 17-year-old Mujeeb Ur Rehman as their frontline spinner.
That Punjab have hurtled down the pecking order as Mujeeb went off the boil in the second half of this 2018 IPL season is no coincidence. Yet, with two in-form players consistently doing the job with both bat and ball should have been sufficient to secure qualification for the playoffs.
All the Kings XI Punjab team management needed to do was make smart decisions, good enough to support Rahul and Tye, and add the sum of parts to haul themselves across the finish line. They have failed to do this simple task. Surely, someone will have to answer serious questions when the franchise owners take stock after this season ends in what looks like a disappointment (at this stage) for Kings XI Punjab.