R Ashwin, the Kings XI Punjab captain, came down heavily on the team’s middle order and said it was time for them to deliver after their ten-wicket hammering at the hands of Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Holkar Cricket Stadium in Indore on Monday (May 14).
Put into bat, Punjab were bowled out for 88 in 15.1 overs, and then Parthiv Patel and Virat Kohli chased down the target in 8.1 overs. The loss leaves Punjab with 12 points from 12 games, but more importantly, they slipped to the fifth position on the table as their net run-rate dropped to -0.518. Bangalore, on the other hand, kept their hopes for a playoff spot alive with their fifth win in 12 games. They are currently seventh on the table, separated from Mumbai Indians above them on net run-rate.
“We have had problem with our batting from the start. We don’t make enough runs. We have a problem in the middle order. But the batsmen in the middle order, like Aaron Finch or Marcus Stoinis, they are good batsmen. Maybe they will perform when it matters,” Ashwin said at the post-match press conference, even while revealing that the plan was for one batsman to bat the full 20 overs. “We have to keep that hope alive. We have bought them in the auction hoping they will deliver. We have to keep that positivity.
“To be honest with you, we are not one of the top champion sides. We are one of those sides who punched our way above our weight in the first half of the competition. To be very precise, I did expect a run like this to happen to us but not this much. Probably we could have won a game or two more and already got to 14 or 16 points,” he added. “It has not happened, but maybe it is time – we have lost three on the bounce now, maybe we can’t lose the fourth one on the bounce now. Mumbai (where Punjab play their next match on Wednesday) is a place where there is a lot of bounce and generally the foreign batsmen love it and I just hope the foreign batsmen come good. And KL (Rahul) has been batting well. It is probably a matter of time before one of them gets going. Maybe, we can get three hundreds and win the tournament.”
Umesh Yadav was the star of the game. He removed Rahul and Chris Gayle, the two Punjab openers who have been the most consistent for the team, within the Power Play and then dismissed Andrew Tye to finish with 3 for 23. Having bowled 15 dot balls, he said that trying to not give room to the batsmen had been his game plan.
“We know they (the openers) are two dangerous batsmen and if they get set, then their score can go up to 180-190. The team’s plan was to hit the right length and the less room I gave to them, the better it will be for me,” Umesh told iplt20.com. “The plan was to encourage them to hit me to the boundary in front of the wicket even as I focussed on my strength, which is bounce and pace. I just tried bowling wicket to wicket. My team and my captain backed me.
“If you are scared of getting hit, then you cannot bowl in the IPL. T20 is such that sometimes bad balls can give you wickets while good balls can get hit,” he added. “I focus on not thinking about the ball that has already been hit for six. The focus is to bowl a better next ball. Staying in the present in the short format is very important.”
Parthiv, the Bangalore wicketkeeper, felt Umesh has been bowling at his best from the 2016-17 home season when India played 17 Tests.
“He is bowling brilliantly. Against England, when I played, and Australia in the Test matches last year, there also he bowled brilliantly in those 17 home Test matches where he played. Now he is bowling at his best. He got his reward also. He is now a part of all the formats in the Indian team,” Parthiv said. “He is thinking right, and more than that, whatever he is thinking, whatever he is trying to do, he is executing very well. I have been a part of bowlers’ meeting. Whatever they have decided, whatever we have planned, he has been executing. Something is very special.”
Parthiv himself has brought in freshness as an opener, scoring 53 in his first match of the season against Chennai Super Kings and then making an unbeaten 40 against Punjab after two low scores.
“While I am batting, I have great belief in myself that I could hit boundaries, find the gap playing just cricketing shots. I don’t have to go out there and try and slog my way into the first six overs. After having played for so many years, knowing my game, sticking to it,” Parthiv said of his batting philosophy. “Even under pressure every time I try more to play cricketing shots rather than going for slog. Every time I have tried to slog, I have got out. I try and play according to my game. I strongly believe I can hit boundaries by playing normal cricketing shots.”
Parthiv believed that the win that kept Bangalore in the hunt was possible because of the combined effort of the bowlers and fielders.
“Indore is known as a high-scoring venue, and to finish off the game like we did it is very satisfying. Our bowlers set up the game brilliantly. We fielded very well as well. A few (three) run-outs here and there made a huge difference. When you are chasing 90, you have a chance of increasing our run-rate as well. That also we kept in mind. Overall, it is very, very satisfying.
“The way Kings XI played throughout the season, they have relied heavily on Gayle or KL Rahul. To get them out in the first six overs, we knew that we can run through this middle order,” he continued. “We had this belief which we were talking (about) after every wicket. If we get one then we can get them out under 120-130. As the wickets kept falling, we came from 130 to under 100.”
Punjab now take on Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede Stadium. “We have to win two more games,” Ashwin remarked. “Mumbai came from the bottom, now RCB is coming from the bottom. To reach the playoff in such kind of a tournament, we have to be realistic. We have to play tight games. IPL is never easy. All the teams are good and they will have their run. We hope that we get our run in the next game.”
Punjab, though, will most likely be without Mujeeb Ur Rahman, their key spinner who also missed out against Bangalore because of injury.
“Mujeeb’s injury status is quite bad. He has got a swollen thumb and a wrist injury of sorts in the right hand. You can’t risk someone like that to play a game and we didn’t want to either,” Ashwin revealed. “I don’t know how he will be for the next game, but I do believe everything happens for the good and we got a combination which I thought is a good combination. It didn’t work today, maybe it will work in Mumbai.”