Did Ravichandran Ashwin get his team selection right? A brief look at the playing XI suggested that the Kings XI captain was backing his opening combination to get most of the runs after he decided to field first upon winning the toss. Sample this – Mayank Agarwal was brought back into the scheme of things despite having managed only 118 runs in his previous eight knocks. At four was Aaron Finch – the Australian batsman has been heavily backed by the team management, but he had made only 24 runs so far at a pitiable average of 6.
Axar Patel, who has had modest returns with both bat and ball, was slated to bat at six and was followed by the captain himself at seven. It meant that KL Rahul and Chris Gayle – who have combined together to score 51.5% of KXIP’s runs (before today’s match) so far in IPL 2018, were now tasked with the job of getting their team off to a flier once again.
On a wicket that for once played true to its reputation, this strategy was bound to come back and bite the hosts of the evening. To add to Ashwin’s woes, Narine chose the occasion to shed his lean recent batting form and Mujeeb Rahman, Ashwin’s go to man in crunch situations – damaged his fingers while attempting a return catch and walked off after just eight balls into his spell. They say when it rains, it pours and it was increasingly becoming clear that this just wasn’t going to be Ashwin’s day. The unpredictability factor that brought a lot of laurels to the captain was now being tested.
It wasn’t that the bowling or fielding was shoddy, they tried their level best but were thwarted by the brilliance of Sunil Narine. After his 17-ball half-century in KKR’s opening encounter against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), Narine had threatened with a few starts, but there was that one big innings that never came. It was time to set the record straight and his 36-ball 75 left the hosts reeling. Ashwin’s six-bowler theory was been seriously tested as batsmen after batsmen took turns to enjoy the feast.
To add to Ashwin’s dismay, none of the squad changes created an impression. Bariner Sran, who replaced Manoj Tiwary, was carted for 48 runs from just three overs. Mayank Agarwal, who replaced Akshdeep Nath, registered a first-ball duck and the middle-order didn’t inspire much, despite the final score of 214. There was one man standing though, KL Rahul. He’s in that mode where everything seems to find the middle of the bat. Even as partners deserted him, he kept finding the boundaries at will. But there’s only that much one man can do, Rahul’s stunning 29-ball 66 was brought to an end by Sunil Narine and that effectively ended the chase.
Speaking after the match, Andrew Tye – the purple cap holder, agreed that the middle-order needs to be sorted out ahead of the next match. “We would like someone else other than KL (Rahul) to stand up, Finchy stood up a bit today, we haven’t yet reached a do-or-die situation, but it’s disappointing that we are not getting consistency with our batting,” he reckoned.
On hindsight, KXIP might have well lost the match at the end of the first twenty overs of the game. History says that no team has successfully chased more than 217. But did the team management give themselves the best possible combination in the eventuality of a big chase?
“I thought we conceded 20 or 30 runs too many”, Tye said, ruing the lack of execution skills – which allowed the Knight Riders to run away to a healthy score. “We had six bowlers today, so we had it covered (talking about Mujeeb’s injury), it’s just a shame that he got hurt, hopefully, he’s okay,” he added.
It is at those testing times that a captain starts searching for any inspiration. His team suffered the ignominy of conceding the highest total of this season, but as coach Brad Hodge had asserted – this was just one bad day at the office and the trust wasn’t wavering at a group of men who have had the complete backing of their captain. He has invested a lot of time and effort at this set of individuals, he wasn’t going to ruin it all in a fit of madness. KXIP will find a way to get back from today’s destruction, their captain has had a bad day, the bowlers have had it worse and the batsmen couldn’t make up for it. But as we have seen it before, this is a team that’s making heads turn by playing fearless cricket, they will need to produce more of it if they are to make it to the playoffs.