Gujarat Lions versus Kings XI Punjab. Top versus bottom. Two days ago, I had described the Lions as the best side in IPL 2016. Peter Miller, Firstpost‘s regular Kings XI correspondent, has had plenty to say in the past about the Mohali outfit’s relative merits and lack of achievement. This Sunday afternoon meeting should therefore have provided a pretty straightforward narrative — the little guys thrown to the Lions and being duly mauled — especially after Lions skipper Suresh Raina won the toss and had the advantage of chasing.
But cricket, particularly T20 cricket, is not that simple.
At the half-way stage, the match did look to be following a predictable path: Kings XI had been held to a competitive but not daunting total, and the Lions, with their formidable batting line-up, were expected to add a seventh win in eight games. But it didn’t turn out that way.
It would be easy to recount this game and its upsetting of the form book as a typical ‘David slays Goliath’ scenario that sport throws up from time to time. More often than not, this happens when a star player turns in an exceptional, match-winning performance that is great enough to fell the mighty. But then again, this was not even a case of one man with a slingslot overcoming a giant.
The defining characteristic of this fixture was the collective performance of both teams, but most markedly the heroic deeds of the home-grown players. Not one of the array of overseas stars featuring in the match made an ultimately telling contribution, and they were completely outshone by the endeavours of Indian cricketers. A triumph for a domestic competition. The story of this contest is told in the contributions of national players outplaying the international ones.
The visitors got off to a very good start, posting 59 without loss in the PowerPlay overs, with new captain Murali Vijay leading from the front, setting the tone with some fine shots, an advance down the wicket to Praveen Kumar in the third over, where he lifted him to the long-off boundary the most thrilling of the lot. When wicket-keeper Dinesh Karthik came up to the stumps to restrict further charges, Vijay responded with a superb lofted straight drive over the bowler’s head.
Vijay dominated the strike early on, and his opening partner Marcus Stoinis joined in when he tucked into Ravindra Jadeja, who was introduced in the fifth over. It was a poor over from the usually reliable left-arm spinner, and it was brave captaincy from Raina to not remove him from the attack immediately. The skipper’s faith paid dividends when Jadeja had Stoinis stumped in his next over.
From that point on, the Kings XI innings fell away alarmingly. In fact, from 65-0 off 6.3 overs, they were effectively all out for 88 in another 13.3 overs. It appeared to be a sad reverting to type for IPL’s perennial under-achievers. The star performer for the Lions was young “chinaman” bowler Shivil Kaushik, who bowled wonderfully and returned figured of 4-0-20-3. He removed the Australians Shaun Marsh and Glenn Maxwell for 1 and 0, and added top-scorer Vijay’s scalp into the bargain. He dismissed Maxwell for a golden duck, a fate later to also befall Dwayne Bravo — although Maxwell was clearly of the belief that he hadn’t edged the ball to the keeper.
Middle-order 30s from David Miller and Wriddhiman Saha rebuilt the Kings XI innings, but they collapsed again in the later stages with the last four wickets adding only nine runs. 154 all out should not have been enough. Murali Vijay must have suspected that his captaincy record after one game in charge would read played one, lost one. And when Dwayne Smith took 11 runs off the first over of the reply, he would have feared the worst.
But then the game changed. In the next over, Brendon McCullum aimed a terrible looking cut to a good length ball from Mohit Sharma and was clean bowled. A much-needed early breakthrough against a normally indomitable opening pair. In Sharma’s next over, Raina hooked him smartly for six, but he too had his stumps shattered, aiming and missing with an ugly slog. Two batting stars gone, and the Kings XI were genuinely in the game. At the end of six overs, the Lions were 35-2. Not many teams have out-powerplayed them this season.
The next over then went a long way to deciding the match. Slow left-armer Axar Patel, operating around the wicket, induced Smith to mistime and hole out at long off from the third ball; he then bowled Karthik off an inside edge from the fifth. Off the sixth, he went through Bravo with an absolute beauty. One over, three priceless wickets with delightful, irresistible bowling. He had every right to dance with delight for defeating these champions.
At 39-5, and with the cream of the home side’s top-order back in the dug-out after a collective batting failure, the visitors could contemplate a genuine upset: Taming the Lions in their own den. Patel was now on a hat-trick — but Vijay wisely gave him a break and fiddled in three overs from the support staff while the two new batsmen steadied the ship. Patel then returned, and bagged three-in-three: Jadeja touching one that left him into Saha’s safe gloves. The batsman looked as bemused as Maxwell had earlier in the day, but he had to go, and Patel had earned his right to the headlines.
James Faulkner and young Ishan Kishan did their best to find a way out of the mess; Kishan in particular demonstrated intelligence and resolve in the face of a daunting situation. He showed much skill and promise, but the task was beyond him and the required run-rate was now too high; he eventually perished, run-out for 27.
Faulkner was the last man standing. If an overseas star was going to provide the match-winning contribution, he was the only one left. It needed an assault of the Chris Morris variety. The Australian is capable of such interventions, but this wasn’t his day.
It wasn’t the day for any of the overseas stars, it was a day for home-grown talent to shine. It might have been Kaushik’s day, or Vijay’s, possibly even Kishan’s. Mohit Sharma could easily have claimed it too — he returned to pick up his third wicket in the 19th over and conceded only seven runs — leaving the Lions needing a near-impossible 30 from the last over. But it was Patel’s day. And he rightly received the man-of-the-match award.
But more so this was India’s day. A day when their players on both sides eclipsed the talents of the international guest stars. If this was a case of David beating Goliath, it wasn’t so much the unexpected victory of bottom versus top; but of the unsung heroes out-matching the big names.