Among the many patterns set in the first half of the 2020 Indian Premier League (IPL) was the struggles of Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) and Rajasthan Royals (RR) to replicate their initial success.
While RR started their campaign in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with a win against Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and KXIP, they went on to lose the next four matches on the trot. The situation in the KXIP camp was even more worrisome.
KXIP lost their first match to Delhi Capitals only in the Super Over before captain KL Rahul’s record 132 not out and a clinical performance from their bowlers helped the trump Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in their second game by 97 runs.
After that, however, they went on to lose five games on the trot, most of them being heavy defeats.
Both teams have shown a tendency to depend upon their top order to provide the goods in batting. While Rahul Tewatia has proven to be a handy player in the lower order since he burst into the collective conscience of those that follow the tournament with his match-winning knock against KXIP, RR’s initial success was centred around Sanju Samson’s extraordinary form in the first three matches.
He scored 74 and 85 in the first two matches but since, he has managed two-digit scores only twice in eight matches.
The same has been the case for captain Steve Smith, who struggled to reach double digit scores in six innings before he scored 57 against Royal Challengers Bangalore on October 17. RR lost that match because they came across a purring AB de Villiers later in the day.
The addition of Jos Buttler has been a help, although the wisdom in moving him into the lower order and sticking with Ben Stokes in the opening slot along with Robin Uthappa is debatable. In RR’s last match, however, Buttler looked at home wherever he is asked to bat, leading them to victory over the beleaguered CSK with an unbeaten 70 after coming in at No.5.
The win against CSK was the one of the few times that RR’s batsmen matched up to the performance put in by their bowling lineup led by the fiery Jofra Archer. A theme of RR’s run of defeats in the first half of the league stage was the batsmen woefully underperforming compared to the efforts put in by the bowlers.
For KXIP, openers Rahul and Mayank Agarwal have been overdrive this season. Both have scored a century each this season and while Mayank has scored 398 runs at an average of 39.8, Rahul has smashed 540 at an average of 67.5.
A feature of their three wins in the last three matches has been that the openers have been backed by the rest of the players in the team, whether it be the batsmen that come after them or their bowlers. In what was his first game of the season, Chris Gayle scored 53 coming at No.3 against RCB.
The fact that KXIP had to win that match – their first since their win against the same team in their second match – off the last ball, despite needing just two runs from the last over showed where they were mentally.
It would be more angst for Rahul in their next match against the dominant Mumbai Indians (MI) which could be decided in their favour only after two Super Overs. It featured a brilliant effort from Mohammed Shami to deny MI six runs in their Super Over to force the second eliminator in which Chris Jordan limited MI to 11 runs. Gayle and Mayank finished the chase in four balls.
Their win against Delhi Capitals (DC) would have been what Rahul and coach Anil Kumble wanted to see all season. DC were pushed to 164/5 because of opener Shikhar Dhawan’s unbeaten 106. For once, Rahul and Mayank failed to fire and Gayle left after scoring 29 off 13. It was Nicholas Pooran (53 off 28 balls) and Glenn Maxwell (32 off 24) who led the effort from the middle order to complete a five-wicket win for KXIP.
Both KXIP and RR have made promising starts to the second-half of the league stage, the former more so than the 2008 champions. As the race for the top four heats up, the team managements would be hoping that individuals who haven’t been firing can step up and provide the balance that the two sides would need to make the most of the season.
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