Twenty20 cricket isn’t easy. For one, this shortest format’s pace is altogether different from its other two longer cousins. Add the element of surprise, possibility of the game turning on its head every delivery, and the unpredictable variance in a shortened span of time, and T20 format becomes quite difficult to exert control over.
That is why international captains scratch their heads, for an Australia-Zimbabwe match-up can be surprising. That is why Bangladesh can start favourites against India in a bilateral three-match T20Is’ series. That is why teams like Chennai Super Kings are marvelled for their consistency in franchise cricket, and their downfall is equally stunning. That is why the game isn’t over until someone like Rahul Tewatia is still at the crease.
This is also why scoring back-to-back centuries in T20 cricket is a feat to be marvelled at. Since this format’s inception in 2004, only nine batsmen have scored hundreds in back-to-back matches. It is an extremely rare feat considering the prevalence of this format in today’s cricketing universe.
Just consider the Indian Premier League alone. It is the 13th edition – previous 12 seasons each have had 60 matches on average. Tuesday night was the 38th match this year – a total of 758 matches. Shikhar Dhawan became the first batsman to score back-to-back centuries in IPL history – for the first time in 758 matches. If you cannot still believe how rare a feat that is, well, here’s some perspective – there have been five Super Overs in 38 matches already this year.
Yes, a Super Over is more common an occurrence than a batsman building on his good run of form and notching up back-to-back centuries in a format that is technically designed for batsmen. This analytical build-up about the rarity of Dhawan’s feat against Kings XI Punjab is praise enough for the 34-year-old opener. Posterity though demands a few more words be provided for perspective.
Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rohit Sharma – these are the top three names that come to mind when you think of India’s best white-ball openers. Dhawan perhaps makes the list along with Sourav Ganguly thereafter. If you talk about just this current era, Dhawan is still some way behind Rohit and Kohli when it comes to consistency in ODIs and T20Is. He is right up there in terms of effectiveness though.
Forget the texture of his innings on Tuesday – you can open up any scorecard and check how many fours and sixes he hit. What matters more? Dhawan scored 106 out of Delhi Capitals’ 164-run total. The underlying point being there is nobody quite like Dhawan to making his good run count.
If Rohit and Kohli are inspirations for batsmen like Sanju Samson and Rishabh Pant, who need to achieve more consistency in what they do, Dhawan then is the quintessential starting point in their education. Often he stutters to get started in a bilateral series but when he goes on a roll, something just clicks mentally. It is the reason why he has such a wonderful record in ICC tournaments – Dhawan is a certified cricketing case study in the regard.
This, though, just isn’t about waxing lyrical over Dhawan’s achievements. He has done enough already in this IPL 2020 season to retain his ODI-T20I spots when the team to Australia is picked shortly. Moving on then, pick out another statistic from that Punjab versus Delhi scorecard – KL Rahul scored 15 runs, Mayank Agarwal 5 runs and Chris Gayle 29, for a total of 49 between the top-three. Punjab still won with an over to spare.
It is a win that’s doubly important for Kings XI Punjab’s season. Firstly, it gives them those all-important two points and lifts them up to fifth in the points’ table with eight points from 10 games. The difference between fourth place and bottom is still only four points, but that is a run of three consecutive wins for Punjab in the space of six days. Last week this time around they were dead last having lost to Kolkata Knight Riders by two runs.
This can be termed as a massive turnaround, and the fact that it coincides with Chris Gayle’s inclusion into the side isn’t lost out. This is where the second point emanates. With the Universe Boss slotting into their top-order, Punjab have somehow managed to figure out a perfectly balanced first-choice eleven that clicks. That last word needs to be underlined and highlighted in bold for anyone still figuring out what has changed with Punjab.
At the start of the tournament, Kings XI struggled with their overseas balance. With Rahul and Agarwal bearing Team India aspirations, they were obvious starters ahead of Gayle. Then, their purple patch didn’t allow him to be considered. What did matter was Punjab’s over-dependency on Rahul-Agarwal and the lack of wins despite the duo’s good form. With Nicholas Pooran only pitching in a handful of games, Glenn Maxwell seemingly on a holiday, and confusion over Sheldon Cottrell against Chris Jordan (and Mujeeb ur Rehman), experimentation kicked into the middle-order.
To say that it proved disastrous wouldn’t be harsh. Some of the selection calls were baffling. No Gayle despite a string of losses, persisting with Cottrell when his early form disappeared, dropping Karun Nair and Sarfaraz Khan quickly, chopping and changing with the line-up every match, even to the extent that Rahul-Pooran didn’t keep wickets and Punjab needed the third keeper in Prabhsimran Singh – it simply didn’t make sense.
Add another – backing Maxwell despite scoring only 58 runs in eight innings. In that light, Maxwell continuing to play was an offshoot of another pivotal decision – playing Deepak Hooda. Gayle’s re-introduction further helped them sit and ponder over their strongest eleven, at least theoretically. Gayle featured in it, which made the top-order look solid and with Pooran, Maxwell and Hooda later on, it was a matter of time when some semblance of form would kick in.
It did, on Tuesday night, against Delhi’s relatively under-par 165-run target. The Capitals have defended par scores earlier in the season and they boast arguably the best bowling attack in this tournament. For Pooran and Maxwell to come to Punjab’s proverbial party is a booster shot at the business end of this IPL. It must have been heartening for Rahul in particular, after scoring 540 runs in 10 innings, to finally have some support.
Maxwell-Pooran pair dictated terms to Delhi’s bowling and got ahead of the asking rate. Then, Hooda polished off the remaining runs intelligently, and without hiccups, underlining success for Punjab’s aforementioned batting strategy.
As James Neesham smacked a six to take his side across the finish line, a key pointer emerged. Punjab have already played IPL 2020’s table-toppers – Mumbai Indians, Delhi Capitals and Royal Challengers Bangalore twice. Their final match-ups are against Sunrisers Hyderabad, Kolkata Knight Riders and Rajasthan Royals, with already-ousted Chennai Super Kings the final game on 1 November.
Let it be said here, the resurgent Kings XI Punjab need another three wins out of four matches to seal a knockout spot. Only a fool would bet against them given their late form.
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