In the last few seasons Kings XI Punjab was always one team that came pretty close to sealing a semifinal berth only to miss out at the fag end by a close margin. This season, however, Preity Zinta’s team has made a good beginning by winning its first couple of matches in the previous week and then continuing the trend on April 22, 2014 against the Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. One of the worries, if any, regarding the Kings XI team was whether it would be able to win batting first but it has managed to dispel those worries for the time being with a confident win of 72 runs against a team that narrowly missed out on the semis in 2013 and could very well do so this year as well.
Team composition: Punjab made a couple of changes to their team bringing in Rishi Dhawan and Sandeep Sharma for Murali Kartik and Parvinder Awana. Hyderabad made a change as well, bringing in Irfan Pathan for Ishant Sharma.
Batting: Sunrisers won the toss and opted to field first, probably to upset the momentum of Kings XI that had been winning so far by mowing down large totals. Kings XI ran up 193 for 6 batting first and Maxwell with 95 from 43 was the principal contributor yet again. However, Sehwag with 30 from 22 balls and Pujara with 35 from 32 also provided the platform from where Maxwell could tee off.
Replying to the substantial total, Sunrisers never got any positive momentum going ahead. They folded up for 121 in 19.2 overs and the highest scorer was Lokesh Rahul who scored 27 from an equal amount of deliveries.
Bowling: Bhuvneshwar Kumar was the standout bowler for Sunrisers with 3 for 19. Amit Mishra (2 for 56) and Darren Sammy (1 for 22 from 2) picked up wickets but gave away too many runs as did Irfan Pathan and Karn Sharma, who were unable to bag any scalp. Steyn was economical but his lack of success meant that the team was on the backfoot when it bowled.
In comparison, Kings XI was far better with the ball. Balaji led the way with 4 for 13 and thus won the Purple Cap for the time being. Sandeep Sharma (1 for 26), Johnson (2 for 26), Akshar Patel (1 for 20) and Rishi Dhawan (1 for 23 from 2.2 overs) were successful in picking up wickets and keeping constant pressure on the Sunrisers batsmen thus never allowing them to play freely.
Where do the teams go from here?
Kings XI Punjab has settled into a good rhythm and with the openers Sehwag and Pujara finding a modicum of form there would be less worries for Bailey. The Punjab skipper would also be happy with how Sandeep Sharma bowled. The best thing for this team is that they have several good options in the bench as far as seam bowling is concerned.
The Sunrisers however, will have a lot more questions to answer at the moment. While it is admirable to see that the management is keeping faith in quality cricketers such as Venugopal Rao, Lokesh Rahul and Darren Sammy it also needs to realize that perhaps they need to be substituted since this is a short-term competition, where the best combination needs to be found as soon as possible. They need to bring in players like Ashish Reddy and Moises Henriques to extend their batting and also have more options with the ball.
They should also bring in Parvez Rasool – playing 2 leg spinners in tandem is not working for them – and Ishant Sharma. Naman Ojha, a hard hitting batsman-keeper and Brendan Taylor also need to be accommodated. Within the first XI, the batting order needs to be corrected. Warner, an opener in every format, is being wasted at number 3. Perhaps Dhawan should push himself or Finch down and allow the New South Welshman to come up the order. Sunrisers have picked a very good squad and now they need to start utilizing it for their own sake.