They had batted well within themselves to set themselves up to be heroes of a famous Kings XI Punjab victory over Chennai Super Kings. But KL Rahul and Sarfaraz Khan allowed themselves to be caught in a web by a trio of vastly seasoned bowlers, backed by an astute captain who knew what mounting pressure could do to the minds of the batsmen during a chase.
The art of taking the team across the finish line every time the opportunity presents itself is not an easy one to learn and execute. But when they get the time, both Rahul and Sarfaraz will discover they let the spin trio of Harbhajan Singh, Imran Tahir and Ravindra Jadeja get on top of them and gave themselves little chance of completing the win.
The KXIP duo will realise that neither their half-centuries nor their 110-run stand was of little use to the team as it chased 161 for victory. On paper, their strike rates looked good but that was never going to be enough. The intent to deny the bowlers further success was in evidence alright but the intent to dominate them was missing – and quite conspicuously at that.
Kings XI Punjab skipper R Ashwin, who bowled his heart out in claiming three for 23, described his batsmen’s not lifting the scoring rate as being unable to flick a switch. Of course, there was not much more that he could say at a media conference, but deep down he would be simmering that as well the pair batted, Rahul and Sarfaraz were not equipped enough to win the game on Saturday.
Of course, the Kings XI batsmen were up against Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s immaculate ability to hatch plans and read the game situation. He set such fields and his bowlers responded so well that both Rahul and Sarfaraz Khan were unable to find the gaps. It was almost as if there were more than 11 CSK men on the field. It was almost as if the chase was ill-planned.
There is no doubt that Kings XI had given themselves a fair chance to beard the Chennai lions in their own den but ended up falling prey to their innate desire to play spinners with respect and without taking any risks. It was almost as if their minds were made up not to let the spinners add to the two wickets that Harbhajan Singh had scalped in his opening over with the new ball.
Admittedly, there had to be a rebuilding phase as they got together at seven for two in two overs. But having taken 38 runs from four overs off the two fast-medium bowlers in power play, Kings XI Punjab were unable to press on against the spin bowlers. The pattern of scoring in the 11 overs of spin they were subject to is revealing: 41 singles, four twos, three fours and as many as 18 dots.
If and when they look back, they will realise that they managed only 24 runs in five overs from the 13th. The urgency and authority that Safaraz showed against debutant Scott Kuggeleijn had been wrapped up against the vastly experienced spinners. It was the phase of the game in which Chennai Super Kings would have begun to breathe a bit easier.
The pair could have taken the attack to the spinners, at least enough to ensure that the asking rate would not mount above 15 runs an over. Perhaps Rahul and Sarfaraz had backed themselves to do what Dhoni and, to a lesser extent, Ambati Rayudu, had done during the Chennai Super Kings innings.
Given that CSK had been 116 for three after 17 overs and finished with 160 without losing any more wickets – the Dhoni spectacle unfurling with 31 runs in those three overs – it should have been possible for KXIP to get to the finish line with a bit of effort. That would have needed Rahul and Sarfaraz to complete the task themselves.
Yet, with pressure building up, it was inevitable that Rahul first and David Miller later fell to poor stroke execution to the fast-medium bowlers. Rahul was caught in the deep off a top-edged pull and Miller was bowled, swinging his bat in hope. Rahul’s wicket allowed Kuggeleijn to calm his nerves and complete his four overs with respectable figures of two for 37.
Some may charge you with being going overboard but you would not be wrong to say that the presence of Dhoni in front of the wicket in the last three overs of the Chennai Super Kings innings and behind the stumps when Kings XI Punjab were chasing was the biggest factor in how the match panned out.
It was only Dhoni who could inspire Deepak Chahar to finish the 19th over with immense confidence after conceding eight runs before sending down the first legitimate delivery. It was only Dhoni who could back a debutant paceman to claim two for 10 in his final two overs and make him feel an integral part of the attack.
For all that, Rahul and Sarfaraz Khan will know that they could have embraced a slightly smarter approach to seal the win and take Kings XI Punjab to the top of the table, a spot that Chennai Super Kings now occupies. They would be ruing the absence of a bit more enterprise against the spin bowling trio of the home side.