Run chases in any format of cricket are tricky. Each team or individual has their own approach. Gautam Gambhir didn’t like to leave it until the last over. Mahendra Singh Dhoni inevitably did and generally came out on top. Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) are neither taking the Gambhir nor the Dhoni approach this season as they managed to lose an unlosable match for the third time this season.
In the first match against Delhi Capitals, Kings XI batsmen failed to score one of three balls in the 20th over. Then against the Rajasthan Royals, they failed to defend 84 runs in the last five overs. But it was the heartbreaking two-run loss against the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) on Sunday that raises a number of significant questions about the team’s approach, mindset, coaching, and culture.
Like winning, losing can also become a habit. Teams that inherit losing culture tend to get nervous, anxious and their minds become scrambled. Last night, Kings XI needed 22 off 18 balls with nine wickets in hand. Any calculative mind would have suggested one boundary would make it a run-a-ball chase. It was a matter of taking one risk. The big question was when to take the risk? Most great finishers will tell you the first two balls are the ideal because its puts the pressure back on the bowler.
Nicholas Pooran tried it off the second ball of Sunil Narine’s over (18th over) but was clean bowled. The idea was spot on, but the execution was poor. The shot was a rush of blood that summed up the panic in the dugout. This was a game they were destined to win and all the hard work has been done. Such is sport that it is often the easiest skill that is the hardest to execute, especially when there is a sense of expectation.
Pooran’s wicket created pressure on the field and also in the dugout. The sense of belief was missing and instead of backing an experienced campaigner like Glenn Maxwell, the Kings XI think tank opted to send in a rookie, Prabhsimran Singh. It was a baffling decision. Here was a rookie that was asked to confront one of the mysterious spinners in T20 cricket. When such situations arise team management should back the players that have dealt with such scenarios.
Instead of being aggressive and clear with his thought process, Prabhsimran was hesitant. Next four balls, he could only manage one run. It wasn’t the youngster's fault. He was clearly not told of his role which should have been hit or miss. After all, there was Maxwell and Mandeep Singh still to come.
With 20 required off 12 balls, the pressure had now shifted back to Kings XI. KKR believed, but at the same time would have always felt that a win was a bonus. They had the nothing to lose approach, young Prabhsimran should have had the same attitude or at least been told to bat with freedom from KL Rahul, the captain, and Anil Kumble, the coach. Finally, the pressure got the better of him.
For 19 overs of the innings, Rahul would have thought "we can do it”, but at the start of the last over, one could sense his thought shifting to "we need to win it”. The desperation led to anxiousness and tension. Rahul’s shot had a touch of hesitancy and it resulted in his downfall. By then Maxwell was swinging wildly and it resulted in two boundaries, but one has to wonder what would have happened if he was promoted and took the initiative in the 18th over.
One can argue the Kings XI middle or lower order lacks exposure, but this is where other franchises have planned better than them. The elite teams such as Mumbai Indians have designated roles for players. They make their task easier by allowing players to simplify their task. On the other hand, Kings XI has made it harder for the middle order by constantly changing their batting order.
Rahul and Mayank Aggarwal have scored 71 percent of the Kings XI’s runs this season. It means the top order has done its job, but a lack of finisher has resulted in Kings XI losing six of their seven matches. The poor approach and the lack of belief should be blamed not only on the players but also on Anil Kumble.
In modern day cricket, it is the coach’s job to instill positivity into a group. With each wicket and every dot ball yesterday, Kumble’s body language in the dugout was a clear indicator that the lack of confidence has spread right from the captain, players, and through to the coaching staff.
Losing three unlosable matches isn’t simply bad luck. It is a sign of negativity, uncertainty, lack of confidence, and belief. It is difficult for the Kings XI to change all those aspects in the last seven games of the season.
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