The 12 lakh-rupee fine for maintaining a slow over-rate in the Indian Premier League game against Delhi Capitals at the dew-laden Feroz Shah Kotla ground on Saturday would not have hurt their captain, R Ashwin, as much as the loss of the match by five wickets with two deliveries to spare.
Within moments of Delhi Capitals skipper Shreyas Iyer dispatching a Sam Curran delivery to the mid-wicket fence, Ashwin was expressing disappointment that his team had not posted a larger score than 163 for seven in their 20 overs. He was also alluding to the dew expectedly making it tough for the bowlers in the latter part of the game.
Coach Mike Hesson had a different view about the total, thinking it was a par score. Obviously, he also pointed out that dew made it hard for the bowlers, especially with Delhi Capitals opener Shikhar Dhawan and skipper Shreyas Iyer stitching together a good partnership of 92 runs. He drew some solace from the manner in which Kings XI Punjab scrapped till the end.
However, to mount a strong defense of 163 would have entailed smart use of the available bowling resources. One of the indicated courses of action would have been for Ashwin to bring on himself against the left-handed opener Shikhar Dhawan. It would have been apt if he had attacked Dhawan and Prithvi Shaw with the new ball.
After Shikhar Dhawan welcomed Harpreet Brar by dancing down the track and sending the ball soaring over long-off and Iyer picked up his first two boundaries in the same over, Kings XI Punjab were only playing catch up. Even if dew was a factor, the KXIP captain should have aspired to bowl himself and M Ashwin’s full quota of overs to make it hard for the Delhi Capitals batsmen.
Of course, if Ashwin's move to bring on Brar in the fifth over of the Delhi Capitals innings had clicked, he would have continued to draw praise. But it did seem pretty illogical that a left-arm spinner – and an IPL debutant at that – rather than the off-spin bowling skipper himself should be pressed into service against the left-handed Dhawan.
That neither of the Ashwins bowled four overs is an indication of how the skipper made it difficult for himself and Punjab to shackle the home batsmen on the slow track of low bounce. For someone who has had a pretty good tournament as captain, it is such slip-up that can hurt in the final analysis.
He seemed to have looked at the fact that the spinners had not taken any wickets in the 10 overs that the three of them bowled while the Delhi Capitals’ slow bowlers accounted for five scalps. In doing that, he overlooked the fact that his colleagues and he had conceded one run per over fewer than the 103 runs in 11 overs that the home spinners gave away.
The lack of pace would have made it tougher for a new batsman like Colin Ingram to overcome. Instead, the left-handed batsman hammered Hardus Viljoen for four fours and eased the pressure that the spinners had built up by bowling well within themselves. Ingram’s cameo was the second tipping point in the chase after the 17-run Harpreet Brar over.
To be sure, Kings XI would have loved to have a few more runs on the board. With Chris Gayle still at the crease at the halfway mark in their innings, the visiting side managed to add 74 runs but lost four wickets in the bargain. Even then, on a sluggish track where stroke-play was never easy, 163 was a competitive total to defend.
With KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and David Miller not contributing much to the Kings XI Punjab total, either opener Chris Gayle or Mandeep Singh should have stayed longer in the rebuild phase. Gayle fell in the 13th over and Sam Curran followed him back to the dugout in the same Sandeep Lamichhane over and it was up to Mandeep Singh to see the innings through.
Mandeep, who had batted well, lost his wicket to a stumping off Axar Patel when he jumped out in a pre-meditated manner. That left Kings XI Punjab woefully short of batting in the final three overs. It was only the creativity of Ashwin and the fearlessness of Brar that fetched the team 34 runs in the 3.3 overs at the end.
Punjab will have learnt that there are no points for scrapping hard and ending up on the losing side. The defeat, fifth in 10 games, has left the team needing to win at least two, if not three, of their last four league games. Two challenging matches in Bengaluru and Hyderabad come before home games against Kolkata Knight Riders and the high-flying Chennai Super Kings.
Ashwin – and indeed Kings XI Punjab – will have to find their bearings if they are to take decisive steps towards qualification for the play-off stage. The skipper will really have to think on his feet if the punt that he took with Brar’s bowling in Powerplay at the Feroz Shah Kotla on Saturday night is not to hurt the team’s chances.