Following are the major talking points from match number eight of IPL 2021:
The last time Punjab lost four wickets inside the first six overs of an IPL game, the batters dismissed were Martin Guptill, Shaun Marsh, Eoin Morgan and Rahul Tewatia; KL Rahul and Chris Gayle, at the time, were part of the Royal Challengers Bangalore; the bowling attack to inflict the pain belonged to Rising Pune Supergiant.
This time around, it wasn’t as terrible an outing — in 2017, Punjab were bowled out for 73, their lowest total in IPL history — but there wasn’t much for the Punjab Kings to take home from the Wankhede Stadium on Friday, as they were brushed aside by the Chennai Super Kings in a six-wicket defeat.
It gave MS Dhoni’s CSK their first points of the season, while making it five wins in their last six games against Punjab.
Following are the major talking points from match number eight of IPL 2021:
Chahar’s clinical effort, ala the good ol’ days of ‘18-19
No seamer has more wickets than Deepak Chahar in the first six overs of men’s T20s since 2016. That’s down to both how much he bowls in this phase — nearly 77% of his overs in the IPL have been bowled in the powerplay — and how good he typically is in this phase.
Through CSK’s triumphant return to the IPL in 2018 and the runners-up finish in 2019, Chahar was exceptional with the new ball: 25 powerplay wickets in 82 overs, an economy rate of 7.34, and a wicket every 20 balls. In 2020, much like CSK altogether, Chahar’s strengths dipped alarmingly — be it by virtue of the conditions, or his own lack of prime fitness following a COVID-19 bout. He could only claim seven wickets from 37 powerplay overs in the UAE, conceding 7.46 per over and needing 32 balls per wicket.
The powerplay pain stayed with Chahar beyond IPL 2020. In three outings in Australia, he bowled five wicketless overs for 54 runs; in the season-opener this IPL, he bowled three wicketless overs for 24.
On Friday, the switch flicked back on.
The Chahar clinic began with a jaffa — if you haven’t already, just do yourself a favour and go watch Mayank Agarwal’s dismissal. No, really. Go.
It was quite the opening act for a record-breaking spell of 4-1-13-4 – the best-ever figures for any seamer at the Wankhede in the IPL.
But it’s not like the ball started moving magically, or the pitch started playing tricks of its own; it was tidy work, it was tactical work. Agarwal may have got the dream peach, but Chris Gayle was deceived by a knuckle-ball, and Nicholas Pooran’s weakness against short-pitched bowling was targeted as soon as he walked out.
And those aren’t just any three batters: Agarwal, Gayle and Pooran have been responsible for 44% of Punjab’s runs since the start of IPL 2020, and Deepak Hooda — their match-winner from the opening game — was also dismissed by the same bowler. Essentially, Chahar ripped out pretty much the entire frame of the Punjab batting lineup.
A lot of things impacted the way CSK performed in 2020, and Chahar going missing hurt their bowling plans drastically. If this sensational outing marks a return to the 2018/19-type, it could be a huge factor in turning around CSK’s fortunes.
This is why Moeen is batting where he’s batting
To displace one of the IPL’s most prolific number three from the spot he’s held since the start of the tournament is notable enough. To do so at a franchise historically proven to be quite resistant to change, especially with their demi-gods, means you have to be coming with some real chops.
A career middle overs scoring rate of 10 runs per over, and a career scoring rate of 9.90 against spin, is, by any yardstick, real chops – that’s what Moeen Ali brought to the table for CSK. And that’s why he’s displaced Suresh Raina at number three.
Scores of 36(24) and 46(31) might not read like statement knocks, but scratch beneath the surface and you begin to see that these runs — and this intent, in particular — is pure gold for the slowest-scoring team in both the powerplay and the middle overs of IPL 2020.
CSK had crawled at 7.13 per over in the first six overs, and 7.40 per over between overs 7-16 last season. In the time that Moeen has been in the middle in these two games — taking CSK from 7/1 in 1.4 overs to 60/3 in 8.3 overs against DC, and from 24/1 in 5 overs to 90/2 in 12.3 overs against PBKS — CSK’s scoring rate has been 8.30.
CSK’s big guns had also come a collective cropper against spin in the UAE; Faf du Plessis, Shane Watson, Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav — their five most frequently-used batters last season — had a combined scoring rate of 6.86 per over while facing spin. Moeen, in his two outings so far, has taken 44 runs from the 25 balls he’s faced from spinners – that’s a rate of 10.56 per over, against the quality of R Ashwin, Amit Mishra and M Ashwin.
Of course, it can’t paper over all the issues surrounding CSK’s batting. But if Moeen maintains this start, and the batters immediately after him in the lineup, Raina and Rayudu, reasonably strong against spin themselves, one glaring hole could be covered for CSK, at least.
Punjab’s precarious balance, to the fore already
Rahul-Agarwal-Gayle-Pooran is about the most fearful batting combination in this competition. It would be among the most fearful combinations in any competition. With Deepak Hooda given a free rein between Gayle and Pooran, it makes for a power-packed top-five.
What can stop such a lineup, aside from brilliant bowling? Well, the remainder of the same lineup.
Shahrukh Khan follows at number six, and while there’s no denying his potential — and his maturity, on the evidence of the patient 47 he made — this is a player shy on game-time at the top level. The 25-year-old entered his maiden IPL campaign with an experience of 227 balls, spread over 23 innings; Shahrukh’s average innings in professional T20 cricket was 13 runs off 10 balls.
Even that seems a tad luxurious when you stare further down the PBKS XI.
Jhye Richardson, the number seven, came into his first IPL season having faced 200 balls over 34 innings in recognised T20 games. Murugan Ashwin’s batting experience in T20s at the start of this campaign was 90 balls, over the course of 21 innings.
Richardson’s average T20 innings is eight runs off six balls, Ashwin’s four runs off four balls; surely, that ought not to be the number seven and number eight of a team in the world’s premier T20 tournament.
That’s where the balancing act required for this Punjab setup to click becomes as delicate as it is. It boils down to one central issue, at least as far as their first-choice XI is concerned: PBKS have batters who don’t bowl, and bowlers who don’t bat.
It’s not like they are blessed with all-round alternatives on the bench, either. Chris Jordan, while a more adept batter than Richardson, would still not qualify as a number seven in any honest T20 selection. Fabian Allen and Moises Henriques would certainly make the cut, possibly for even higher batting positions, but neither comes anywhere close to being a four-over bowling option.
The more you dive into this Punjab collective, the more you realise how deeply unsettling this concern is… the more you can sympathise with the management and the coach, and the captain in particular. It doesn’t absolve him of his astonishingly tone-deaf strike rate comments, but you do see the problem that stares Rahul in his face, as the leader of the team, and the ace of the batting group.
Typically, this is the exact point in an IPL season where Punjab’s combination combustion comes in – a comprehensive defeat, followed by one futile attempt at addressing the balance after another, and no real resolution until it’s almost too late. Last season, they settled on an XI after having played seven games (and lost six).
They’ve changed the name. Have Punjab Kings also changed their panic-button game? We’re about to find out.
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