Kings XI takes on a deflated Gujarat Lions

After struggling with its bowling in the first half of the tournament, Kings XI Punjab, led by pacer Sandeep Sharma, has delivered in the last two games to get itself back in contention for the playoffs.

Sandeep Sharma... King’s XI Punjab’s trump card.   -  PTI

 

After struggling with its bowling in the first half of the tournament, Kings XI Punjab, led by pacer Sandeep Sharma, has delivered in the last two games to get itself back in contention for the playoffs.

Over the next three days, Punjab will return home one last time, for two back-to-back games and would like to bag all four points on offer. First up will be the encounter against a deflated Gujarat Lions on Sunday before it takes on Kolkata Knight Riders on Tuesday.

On the back of bowling out Delhi Daredevils for a paltry 67 here last week, the team did well to defend a modest total of 138 against Royal Challengers Bangalore on Friday.

Following his four-wicket haul against Delhi, Sharma once again delivered for Punjab as he scalped RCB’s big three (Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli, A. B. de Villiers) in the powerplay.

Sharma’s strength lies in his ability to swing the ball and he used that to good effect on Friday. After being hit for a four and a six, Sharma, whose main weapon is his inswinger, bowled one that left the right-hander and a charging de Villiers could only nick it to the ’keeper.

Punjab all-rounder Axar Patel shared some insights on Sharma’s mindset saying, “His strength is that he can swing the ball. So he knows when he can get it to swing, it gets difficult for the batsmen.”

READ: Axar is key to KXIP's revival

“Take any format, when the ball swings, batsmen find it difficult. His mindset is simple, if the ball swings then ‘I can show my capabilities’”, added Patel.

Punjab has won three of its last four matches and is fifth on the points table with 10 points from as many matches and can’t afford any more slip ups.

Gujarat, on the other hand, will be trying to recover from the onslaught by Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson a couple of days back. Like Punjab, Gujarat’s main problem has been with its bowling unit. The team has not managed to defend a score even once this year and has used as many as 18 bowlers over the course of the tournament.

The defeat to Delhi sealed Gujarat’s exit from the tournament. For the table topper from last year, the main aim now will be not to end up with the wooden spoon in what could be its last year in the competition.

When asked about his team’s low stakes in the tournament, assistant coach Mohammed Kaif said it is gives the team an opportunity to provide chances to some of the players who don’t play regularly. Kaif added, “We are professionals who get paid to do a job. Next year there will be fresh auction and the players would want to do well. The table does not matter and we want to finish with a few wins.”

It did not help that the team could not play its star all-rounder Dwayne Bravo, who was the leading wicket-taker in the last edition. Kaif conceded that Bravo’s absence and the uncertainty around his fitness made a big difference, saying, “We always try to fit an all-rounder in the first XI as it always helps the team. The uncertainty regarding Bravo’s fitness did not help either. We thought he could play in the latter part but he did not feel better. Had we known about it earlier, maybe we could have found a suitable replacement.”

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