IPL 2017: Kings XI Punjab's faith in local bowlers pays dividends as they help team to a great start
Kings XI Punjab have shown they are willing to back their local talent and so far it has been crucial to their great start to the tournament.
Before the 2017 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) began, the Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) squad was deemed to be very batting heavy and a bit light on in the bowling department, particularly amongst overseas players that Kings XI had assembled.
With New Zealand’s Matt Henry being the only overseas frontline bowler in the squad, Kings XI’s new captain Glenn Maxwell was always going to have to rely on his contingent of local Indian bowlers to shoulder the workload and deliver in high pressure situations against quality opposition.
In the first two games, against the strong batting lineups of Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), the Indian bowlers have delivered and restricted the opposition to very chaseable and manageable totals of 163 and 149 in Indore, a ground where Kings XI Punjab believed 200 to be a par score after their warm-up matches.
While the nature of the Indore pitch for Kings XI’s first two matches at their home away from home has been two-paced and on the slower side, meaning that the par score was more likely to be around 170-180, the bowlers have done a fantastic job to restrict the opposition.
In particular, Maxwell has been able to rely on Sandeep Sharma during the powerplay. Operating at no more than medium pace, Sandeep relies on prodigious swing, subtle seam movement and nagging accuracy to put pressure on the opposition’s top order. Sandeep has been a consistent performer for Kings XI with the new ball over many editions of the IPL and has continued that form to start this season by striking early in both matches and bowling economically during the powerplay.
Maxwell’s other weapon, and so far his most effective bowler has been Axar Patel. Axar has been the sole front-line spinner in the side for the first two matches, receiving some support from Swapnil Singh against the Supergiant. Axar has taken 2/39 from his eight overs so far in the tournament, conceding less than five runs per over which is a fantastic effort in ODI cricket, let alone Twenty20 cricket.
Axar is not a big spinner of the ball, but what he does possess is the ability to bowl tight lines and cramp the batsmen for room. Using his height and round-arm action, Axar bowls quite quickly and has been firing the ball in towards the right-handers leg stump. However, the gangly left-armer hasn’t been afraid to vary his pace on occasion as well. As his side’s leading spinner, Axar will have a big role to play throughout the tournament and so far he has shown he is up to the task. He appears willing to play any role his captain requires whether that is taking the new ball, bowling in the powerplay, or keeping things tight in the middle of the innings.
While Sandeep and Axar have been the standouts for Kings XI, they have been ably supported by solid performances from Mohit Sharma, Varun Aaron, T Natarajan and the Australian all-rounder Marcus Stoinis.
Mohit is Maxwell’s go-to option at the death, and against RCB he was on the receiving end of some special treatment from AB de Villiers in his last two overs but who hasn’t been spanked out of the park by the great South African? Mohit’s experience bowling at the death, mixing his pace and length, will be invaluable to Maxwell, who doesn’t have the option of relying on a renowned overseas bowler as he sticks to stacking the batting with overseas talent.
While youngster Natarajan didn’t have his best game against RCB, he showed enough against Pune to ensure he will be able to provide able back up in the pace department to Sandeep, Mohit, and speedster Aaron, who bowled with good pace and control in the victory against RCB to finish with the impressive figures of 2/21 from his four overs. Aaron’s IPL career economy rate is poor, conceding more than nine runs per over on average, but if he can maintain the form he showed against Bangalore he could turn into a real asset and attacking weapon for his captain.
Quite often when teams load up their batting with international stars it can backfire as their isn’t enough depth in the local bowling stocks to restrict teams or defend totals. Despite this, the Kings XI hierarchy have shown they are willing to back their local talent and so far it has been crucial to their great start to the tournament. Maxwell has said that he is expecting Axar, Sandeep and Mohit to lead the attack throughout the IPL and by placing so much faith in his three senior bowlers, it could well bring out the best in them and lead to a successful campaign for the Kings XI Punjab.