For all plaudits that Virat Kohli's runmaking has got, and each and every one of those superlatives are richly deserved, he no longer has the title of best innings in this year's IPL. That title now belongs to Hashim Amla, whose 96 against Sunrisers Hyderabad was as close to perfection as you get in the crash and bang world of Twenty20 cricket.
Mohali has the biggest outfield of all IPL 2016 venues, meaning that twos are more likely, but boundaries less so. It is so unlike the other grounds where it seems that teams are playing cricket in miniature.
Moreover, Amla was playing the Sunrisers Hyderabad, who have the best bowling attack in the IPL by a distance, with Mustifizur Rehman the most parsimonious of bowlers and Bhuvneshwar Kumar one of the leading wicket takers. Combined with the potency of the bowling attack was a pitch that was two-paced and offered seam movement for the Sunrisers early on.
He got off the mark when he creamed the second ball of the match just behind square for four and never looked back. His most impressive shot was the drive, but there were some interesting innovations as well. He scored boundaries with a scoop over the keeper's head and lapped another one around the corner when he shuffled well outside his off-stump. Amla is as traditional a batsman as you will ever come across, but he has retro-fitted his game for T20 and done it brilliantly. He will never consistently score at the rate he did on Sunday, an impressive 171 per 100 balls, but he can be a match-winner in this abbreviated form of the game.
Not that Amla was on the winning side; after all, he is playing for the Kings XI Punjab, whose miscreation of a season was finally, humanely put down with this loss. They can no longer mathematically make the play-offs, but an appearance in the latter stages of this tournament for this terribly organised team was only ever ethereal to begin with.
The 179-4 they made should probably have been enough to win this game, but as has been the case with any close game that the Kings XI have been involved in this tournament, they ended up on the losing side again. While no bowler was out-and-out terrible, no one other than Axar Patel was particularly impressive either. Mohit Sharma found none of the zip that he has had in the last three matches, as he went at over 10 an over. Anureet Singh was brought in for KC Cariappa, but looked short of match practice, which was mostly because he was indeed short of match practice.
Finally, we saw David Miller at somewhere close to his best as he made 20 runs from nine balls, but how far his standing in this team has fallen is summed up by the fact he has gone from captain and top three batsman to batting behind Gurkeerat Singh. This will not be a season that he will wish to remember, regardless of what consolation he and his team get for themselves in the final two matches they have to play.
That such an absolute masterclass of batting from one of the modern greats was not enough to prevent defeat is a sad indictment of the Kings XI in 2016, from the auction until now. They went with a fading Mitchell Johnson and unproven Farhaan Behardien, who couldn't get a game even when the side had an available overseas place as other much more viable options went unsold.
They have been unlucky with the form of Miller and the injury to Shaun Marsh, but in Glenn Maxwell they have a batsman who was an inconsistent luxury that they could ill-afford with a weak middle-order. The new signings didn't gel and the old ones have let them down. Come 2017 they need to start over, work out which Indian players they are going to build the team around and lose some of the dead wood.
There is the nucleus of a good team. With an in-form Marsh and Miller, you can afford the worst excesses from the brilliant yet flawed Maxwell. Kyle Abbott has looked extremely poor on Indian pitches when he has played and Mitchell Johnson is now a fading shadow at best. Both could be dispensed with and it would not make the squad markedly worse. Mohit Sharma is a fine T20 bowler who can lead their attack, but it took more than half the season for the Kings XI leadership to realise he should be given the new ball. Axar Patel is a fine young spinner, but isn't strong enough to be your frontline slow bowler. They needed to recruit a spin bowler who had some mystery about him. They tried doing so with KC Cariappa, but he has bowled far too many "hit-me" balls.
If Kings XI want a better year in 2017, they need to look at root and branch change in this squad, which just doesn't fit together into a match-winning unit. If they don't do so, their fans can expect more of the same at IPL 10.
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Updated Date: May 16, 2016 17:22:36 IST