They scrapped hard when they had their backs to the wall and Kings XI Punjab richly deserved the 14-run victory over Delhi Capitals in the Indian Premier League game on Monday. Many would consider that Delhi Capitals imploded on the cusp of a victory, but such thinking overlooks the incredible self-belief and fighting spirit that helped Kings XI Punjab impose pressure.
One of those who imbibed these qualities was Sam Curran. Pressed into service as opener Chris Gayle was unavailable, he backed himself at the top of the order. Unmindful of KL Rahul’s failure, he took upon himself the task of making the most of the Powerplay overs and scored a brisk 20. He returned to claim four wickets off his final five deliveries, the only run coming off a wide.
Yes, of course, Sam Curran’s hat-trick, split by a Mohammed Shami over, will be remembered but Kings XI Punjab secured this victory on the back of the twin pillars of self-belief and a fighting spirit that charged the team up even when they were facing certain defeat. There should be no doubt that these qualities caused Delhi Capitals’ capitulation on Monday night.
They were in evidence all through the night, but never more than when Ashwin brought himself on to bowl to end Shikhar Dhawan’s stay in the middle and his partnership with Rishabh Pant and when Mohammed Shami backed himself to castle the younger left-hander despite having just been smoked for a six over wide mid-on.
To be fair, these qualities surfaced when Mandeep Singh came up with a crucial knock at the end of the Kings XI Punjab innings. Unfazed by M Ashwin’s dismissal and inspired by Mohammed Shami’s decision to sacrifice his wicket, he smote paceman Kagiso Rabada’s last two deliveries for a four and a six. In fact, he took 19 runs off Rabada’s last two overs to fire the team up.
For a man who must be aware that he has sparked a variety of reactions in the wake of his running out Rajasthan Royals’ Jos Buttler for backing up too far in their game last week and who did not claim a wicket in team’s first home game this season against Mumbai Indians, Ashwin showed that he did not let the mind be weighed down. Instead, he was on the ball throughout Monday night.
In fact, he was on the money when he came in to bowl the first over to young Prithvi Shaw and induced an outside edge with a ball that held its line. And, again when he returned to try and check the brisk progress that Delhi Capitals’ left-handed fourth-wicket pair of Dhawan and Pant was making. It was the hallmark of a clear-thinking leader that he decided to back himself to claim a big wicket.
Even after that, with Colin Ingram batting with confidence and purpose, Delhi Capitals were well on their way to a certain victory. They just needed to complete the formalities by getting 23 runs off 21 deliveries. And they had seven wickets in hand. Kings XI Punjab did not need miracles but had to persevere with the best line of attack.
That moment of inspiration came from Shami who castled Pant. A few moments later, R Ashwin conjured a direct hit at the non-striker’s end to punish the dangerous Chris Morris for setting off for a non-existent single. It was as if the plug had been removed from a drain cover and the rest of the Delhi Capitals batting sank without a trace.
Colin Ingram, who had been batting with a calm and smart approach, was immediately made to feel the growing responsibility on his shoulders. That led to an indiscrete stroke and his exit.
The nature of the beast is such that if batsmen who are in the middle cannot handle the challenge, those walking in would find it harder. It became virtually routine for Punjab to make the other batsmen, including Test cricketer Hanuma Vihari, become aware of the PCA Stadium’s rapid conversion into a cauldron of pressure.
The wickets of Ingram, Morris and Vihari are examples of how pressure can lead to errors in decision-making even by seasoned cricketers. Yet, the credit for making these batsmen commit mistakes should go to Kings XI Punjab and their ability to make their campaign stand on twin pillars of self-belief and a never-say-die spirit.
Curran had spent time on the sidelines after the opening game when he had figures of two for 52. For a cricketer to be able to come back and make such an impact at either end of a match, besides the ability to ignore a not so memorable outing and some fearlessness, he would need traits like self-belief and intent to battle till the very end.