IPL 2016: How Kings XI Punjab contrived to win back-to-back wooden spoons
KXIP can reflect on back to back last-place finishes, the first IPL team to ever achieve that dubious honour.
Well, thank God that is over. After a campaign that was the cricketing equivalent of George Armstrong Custer’s efforts at Little Big Horn, Kings XI Punjab can reflect on back-to-back last-place finishes, the first IPL team to ever achieve that dubious honour. Now that last place has been assured, it is time to ponder where it all went wrong for Preity Zinta’s men. Here are the things that they didn’t get right.
They made the call at the start of the season to give the captaincy to David Miller, a man with virtually no experience of doing the job, but on surface it wasn’t a terrible call. He is a Kings XI Punjab player of long standing and was guaranteed a place in the side. It was a gamble, but not one that made you think it was bound to fail. Almost as soon as Miller began leading the side there looked to be a big problem. This wasn’t the Miller that we have all come to know with his quick hands and big follow through drilling the ball down the ground to the boundary. His form was nowhere to be seen and the captaincy was weighing him down like a large seabird necklace.
When the decision to sack Miller and to give the captaincy to Murali Vijay was made, it saw an uplift in Vijay's form but not in Miller’s who managed just 161 runs at an average of 16 in 13 innings. Vijay did a decent enough job as an opener but even with a new leader, Kings XI Punjab were rarely greater than the sum of their parts. George Bailey had a poor year as KXIP captain last year but you always felt that the team were well led, the same was not true this year. From tactics to team selection they always looked a bit lost, wandering around like a kid on his first day in a new school.
The biggest captaincy crime of all was deciding to bowl Axar Patel in the final over in the final match of the season. Rising Pune Supergiants needed 23 to win, a target that had never been achieved in the last over of an IPL match. Win and the Kings XI did not finish last. On strike was the mercurial MS Dhoni who has ice in his veins and a liking for smashing the spin bowlers. It was all so inevitable as Dhoni scored the winning runs with a six off the last ball. Even a dog running around on the pitch just before that ball was bowled was not enough to save the Punjabi team.
Only Murali Vijay managed more than 300 runs, finishing on 453, and Wriddhiman Saha’s 270 was the only tally of more than 200. In very simple terms they did not score enough runs. Shaun Marsh, the franchise’s leading scorer in its history, failed to fire and then went home injured. As already discussed, Miller was woeful throughout and Glenn Maxwell only really showed momentary sparks of brilliance – and he also made three ducks. Without that powerhouse middle order, fit and in-form, there was little hope of them winning games on a consistent basis. And that is exactly what happened.
Two of the batting successes didn’t get a game consistently. Manan Vohra and Marcus Stoinis both impressed when they were given a chance, and they only played seven games each. Rather than giving either of them an extended run, the Kings XI management persevered with Miller in every game.
There were loads of dropped catches, many of which were match defining. Even very solid fielders were shelling simple chances especially early in the season when the Kings XI were hunting to find a win and scrabbling around for one, like a short sighted man looking for his spectacles in the dark. The ground fielding too wasn’t at required level. As the season progressed, things improved but there were still numerous chances to keep the runs down or to take a key wicket that weren’t taken. It wasn’t good enough and it contributed to that last place finish.
There are some decent seamers in the Kings XI squad, but they weren’t always picked and were often bowled out of position. Having spent serious cash to secure the services of Mohit Sharma he wasn’t given the new ball for the first half of the season. Anureet Singh was one of the few bright sparks in the 2015 season and he played twice. Similarly, Stoinis did pretty well with the ball, claiming wickets even if he was expensive at times, but he too struggled to get game time.
Perhaps the most disappointing performer of all was Mitchell Johnson who played in three matches and claimed just two wickets. While some players are able to cope with long layoffs and come back. That was not true of Johnson. He had not played a game of professional cricket since November when he turned up for the IPL at the beginning of April and it showed. He didn’t bowl particularly quick and was far from accurate. He was quickly dropped and not recalled, even when Kings XI had an available overseas spot in their line-up.
The real highlight with the bowling was Sandeep Sharma who has seen his star rise throughout the tournament as he bowled well in the PowerPlay and at the death. He finished the season with 15 wickets, and extremely creditable performance, it was just too often he seemed to be doing it on his own.
So having decided that Kings XI Punjab were bad at batting, bowling, fielding and captaincy in 2016, what do they need to do differently?
First they need to appoint Vijay as captain full time so he can make the side his own in the lead up to next year’s tournament. Hopefully this will have the added benefit of allowing Miller to go into next season’s tournament with an uncluttered mind. Miller is still an excellent Twenty20 batsman with a proven track record of success in the IPL. It is highly unlikely that he would have such a bad year again next season.
When players do well they need to be backed. This year historical success was given weight over current form, and that hurt Kings XI. Sometimes dropping your 'best' batsman is the right thing to do for them and for the team.
There needs to be a cull of overseas talent. The chances of Johnson winning you games will only become less likely with time, the moment is now to say thank you and goodbye. Having Farhaan Behardien added little to the squad. He played three times, scored 14 runs and didn’t bowl. There are better options out there, especially if he isn’t going to get a game when you only have three other overseas players in your side.
The addition that is most needed for this team is a spin bowler who can turn the ball both ways who is consistent and who has succeeded in the past. Now that is far easy to say than it is to find, but it is the difference between this bowling attack being milked for runs in the middle overs and one that is picking up wickets before the death overs.
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