Kings XI Punjab were good enough to snap a losing streak against Rising Pune Supergiants, but are they good enough to topple Kolkata Knight Riders? By Tuesday (April 19) evening a definitive answer will be had at the PCA stadium in Mohali.
Until then, it’s Kolkata on top and Punjab playing catch up for the fourth time since the start of the ninth edition of the Indian Premier League.
Glancing at the roster, Punjab don’t seem like pushovers. A solid top-order, a devastating middle-order, a decent collection of spinners and a versatile pace attack gives them this look of solidity. The only problem is that it has remained a look and hasn’t translated into convincing performances.
Even their win against Pune on Sunday wasn’t quite convincing. After their bowlers clawed back following the initial assault, Punjab had 153 to chase down. Going by their performances with the bat till then, it wouldn’t be a cinch. M Vijay and Manan Vohra, the most consistent performers for the outfit, were on a roll, but just when it looked like they had it in the bag, middle-order jitters returned to haunt the side. The quick dismissals of Shaun Marsh and David Miller didn’t help. It needed an out-of-form Glenn Maxwell to quickly find the sweet spot for Punjab to taste victory at last.
For Punjab, the good thing is that Maxwell’s defensive “I have been striking the ball well” statement has, for the first time this season, been proved true outside the safe confines of practice sessions. He hit the ball as well as he is is know to, and there could be more from where that came. But he will need to keep his wits about him because Kolkata has one of the most efficient bowling attacks.
It is hard to look beyond Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa, the devastating Kolkata openers, but the two times the team have chased, the bowlers have set up the win, reducing Delhi Daredevils to 98 and then restricting Sunrisers Hyderabad to 142.
Granted they were wayward in the game against Mumbai Indians, where they failed to defend 187, but the slip-up had more to do with Rohit Sharma and Jos Buttler’s hitting ability than Kolkata’s inability with the ball. They are without John Hastings for this game after the pace bowler returned to Australia with an injured ankle, but the line-up they’re left with is still enough – as they showed in their tie against Hyderabad – to do damage.
Punjab, however, can’t say the same. Just when Mitchell Johnson looked like he had oiled his joints enough to send in some quick and accurate overs, they swapped him for Kyle Abbott. In Abbott’s defence, he did a good job against Pune, but he is not someone teams have trouble deciphering. At least not a batting line-up as accomplished – albeit untested so far this season – as Kolkata.
The other situation in Mohali for both teams is the weather, which went from an arid 40ºC to a muggy 34ºC after a brief spell of rain on Monday evening.
To summarise, the teams will face an interesting set of problems. The side that comes up with the best solution in three hours is the one that will smile into the night. Kolkata have shown that they have the best problem-solving mindset in the league, but Punjab have the heart. So, let the battle speak for itself.
Kings XI Punjab: David Miller (capt), Axar Patel, Anureet Singh, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Manan Vohra, M Vijay, Nikhil Naik, Rishi Dhawan, Sandeep Sharma, Shardul Thakur, Wriddhiman Saha, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Johnson, Shaun Marsh, Mohit Sharma, Marcus Stoinis, Kyle Abbott, KC Cariappa, Armaan Jaffer, Pardeep Sahu, Swapnil Singh, Farhaan Behardien.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (capt), Manish Pandey, Robin Uthappa (wk), Chris Lynn, Suryakumar Yadav, Colin Munro, Andre Russell, Yusuf Pathan, Shakib Al Hasan, Jason Holder, R Sathish, Manan Sharma, Sheldon Jackson, Kuldeep Yadav, Umesh Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Brad Hogg, Morne Morkel, Sunil Narine, Jaydev Unadkat, Ankit Rajpoot.
Roshan Thyagarajan is cricket correspondent at Wisden India . Mint has a content partnership with Wisden India for the IPL 9 season.