They were desperately looking for a David Miller, blessed with great stroke-play and match-winning skills. But Kings XI Punjab, looking for him to close the Indian Premier League game against Royal Challengers Bangalore found that it was a look-alike, shorn of those gifts, who turned up at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Wednesday.
Kings XI Punjab were hoping they would field the Miller who had slammed 101 off 38 deliveries for them against the Royal Challengers Bangalore and secured victory at the same venue back in May 2013. Instead, a left-handed batsman who seemed to be hoping that his reputation would precede his entry to the pitch was on view.
On a night when their captain Ravichandran Ashwin used variation and control to end with stunning figures of one for 15 in four overs, the Kings XI Punjab fast bowlers came in for stick. That saw AB de Villiers and Marcus Stoinis adding 121 runs in 11 overs and take Royal Challengers Bangalore past the 200-run mark.
There is no doubt that on a track that had little assistance for the bowlers, Ashwin’s was a standout performance with the ball. Against batsmen who could hit the ball hard and with superb timing as well as use their feet to cause problems for the bowler, it was imperative that they found the right length. But the visiting team’s quicker bowlers were found wanting.
Yet, Kings XI Punjab got to the halfway mark in the 10th over and needed to keep scoring at the same pace. It was not to be, with opener KL Rahul holing out to the mat at long-off, barely an over after his friend Mayank Agarwal fell to a catch in the mid-wicket region. The situation had demanded that Rahul put his head down and steer his team to victory.
Small wonder skipper Ashwin spoke of the team’s top batsmen not seeing the team over the line. After all, Kings XI Punjab needed 36 runs in the last three overs with seven wickets in hand. David Miller and Nicholas Pooran had already put on 62 runs in under six overs and should have fancied their chances since Umesh Yadav had given away 47 runs in four overs each in two games.
Yet, the Royal Challengers paceman got some redemption by conceding just six runs in the 18th over and nine in the last over. What’s more, with Miller and Nicholas Pooran falling to Navdeep Saini in the penultimate over, the game had turned on its head. The visitors were left to chase 27 runs in that final over.
Having played seven dot balls and hit just two fours in his run-a-ball innings of 24 runs, Miller found AB de Villiers ending his scratchy stay with a superb catch at long on, running and diving to his right to get his hand underneath the cricket ball. It was the kind of innings that nobody would associate David Miller with.
Then again, in their quest to find balance, Kings XI Punjab overlooked Miller’s string of four single-digit scores, interrupted by a knock of 40 against the Rajasthan Royals, to encourage Miller to find his wonted touch. He surely got a few runs on Wednesday but did not help in raising his tempo of scoring.
There was a time when Nicholas Pooran, playing only his fourth IPL game, had struck 42 off 22 deliveries while Miller made 11 of 16 balls, six of which he did not score off. He was so uncharacteristic that he possibly would not have recognized himself if he were batting as the non-striker.
When they do an analysis, it is likely that each of their batsmen would cope some criticism for not managing the chase well by seeing it to completion. Each one of them had the benefit of getting off to a good start and then gifting his wicket away. KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal would perhaps be the first to admit that they should have guided the team to victory.
Mayank Agarwal’s bid to pull Stoinis ended up as a catch by the mid-wicket fielder and Rahul’s fall in the next over to a lofted shot infused greater hope and belief in the home ranks. But it was really Millers’ uncharacteristic show later on that hurt Kings XI Punjab. He was in a situation in which he could have the energised his team to cross the line with his brand of batting.
It should not be a surprise if Kings XI Punjab confines Miller to the dugout for a while now, letting him the space and the time to find himself. After all, he would the best man to set out in search of the batsman who answers to the name of David Miller and causes worry creases to form on the foreheads of the rival captains.