Kings XI Punjab captain R Ashwin would have plenty of time to ruminate over the events of the first 20 overs of the team’s Indian Premier League match against Kolkata Knight Riders in the Eden Gardens on Wednesday even during its unsuccessful chase of the 219-run target set by the home team.
Dropped return catches and a wicket off a no-ball would be among the quickest thoughts to spring back but, if he dug deeper, he would have come across some decisions made before and during the first 20 overs that came back to hurt the team. Each of those contributed to the KKR total going well past his team’s reach.
The visiting side’s lack of game awareness in conceding a no-ball because only three fielders were inside the circle when Mohammed Shami found the pace and the direction to york the dangerous Andre Russell and silence the Eden Gardens crowd. Of course, as captain, Ashwin took the blame for Varun Chakravarthy’s transgression that cost the team plenty of runs in the end.
Russell made 45 of the 52 runs scored in the 17 deliveries between when he was bowled off the no-ball and when he was caught by Mayank Aggarwal off Andrew Tye in the final over. He dealt the killer blow with his punishing blade, blasting three fours and five sixes in the 11 deliveries after being recalled and given a free-hit against Shami.
Yet, while it was Russell who made the difference between the two sides, it is a game that Ashwin can look back at as one of the more cerebral players and take quite a few captaincy lessons back from the Eden Gardens. It may seem like the batsmen failed the team, but it was a few decisions ahead of and in the first 20 overs that the game was lost.
The choice of bowling first after winning the toss may rankle Ashwin for a while. The home batting with attacking batsmen – and with Robin Uthappa playing the smart, holding role – amassed the biggest total in an IPL game at the Eden Gardens. The decision to play without an all-rounder was also an expensive one.
Of course, the Kings XI Punjab team management could turn around and point that some of the four changes were forced on the side. And that the three overseas players who figured in the XI for the first time this season – Andrew Tye, Hardus Viljoen and David Miller – came up with the best they could.
Yet, there cannot be any question that Kings XI Punjab could have been better served by playing an all-rounder who could deliver at least a couple of reasonable overs. Even then, having made up its mind to embrace the six-specialist-batsmen-five specialist-bowlers theory whole-heartedly, Ashwin should have used the bowling resources really smartly.
The format is such that it punishes captains for their decisions that go wrong as it leaves them with little scope and time for recovery. Without the sixth bowler, Ashwin was hamstrung after Varun Chakravarthy proved to be an expensive choice in his first two overs. It is alright to have confidence and play just five bowlers but when it comes unhinged, it can hurt a team big time.
At a time when the situation demanded a faster bowler to shackle the pair of Indian batsmen, Ashwin brought in Mandeep Singh with a devastating result – his friendly medium-pace cost Kings XI Punjab 18 runs. It is tough for an irregular bowler to do a containing job on a flat deck. And as Varun Chakravarthy showed, he could be a different bowler after Powerplay.
The wrist-spinner had bowled two expensive overs and the Kings XI Punjab gambit of having him bowl to Sunil Narine did not produce the desired results. But it did not mean that he could not be given some confidence and brought back in the attack when the field restrictions were removed. Varun Chakravarthy showed his fearless quality when the captain was forced to go back to him.
Strangely, despite bowling an over to the marauding Rana and Uthappa and conceding but one run while claiming Rana’s wicket with a well tossed up off-break, Chakravarthy was not afforded another over. Of course, the death overs were upon the KKR’s innings, but that over showed how he could have been brought earlier, if not persisted with.
His one-run over came in the wake of Kings XI Punjab’s best fast-medium bowler of the night, Hardus Viljoen, returning to the attack and being thumped for 20 runs, including three successive boundaries including a six over long-on. Nitish Rana had found the extra gear against Mandeep Singh and could sustain his aggression.
And yes, Ashwin will not have been pleased with own bowling on the Eden Gardens track. For someone who had conceded no boundary in the opening game, he would wince that he was hit for five sixes. After Robin Uthappa slogged him in his opening over, the left-handed Nitish Rana struck him out of the ground four times.
However, as coach Mike Hesson pointed out after the match, the team has the bandwidth to be counted towards the end of the long season and would play the best combinations for each match. The Sam Curran/Hardus Viljoen/Mujeeb-ur-Rahman conundrum will continue to be one of the most crucial decisions that the team will have to make ahead of each game.
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