Aussies keep Punjab flag flying

Shaun Marsh... striking a purple patch.-AKHILESH KUMAR

Nothing has been going right for Dravid’s team. The Kings XI capitalised on this to post an emphatic nine-wicket victory. Over to Rakesh Rao.

The Bangalore Royal Challengers had it coming. From the moment the squads of the eight franchisees were finalised for the Indian Premier League, the choice of players in Vijay Mallya’s team became a subject of discussion. Doubts were raised about the collective abilities of those, with proven credentials in Test cricket, to meet the demands of Twenty20 cricket.

With every defeat, the sceptics were proved right and finally, even the team owner went public with his views. However, the timing of Mallya’s statements could not have been worse. Hours before the Royal Challengers met an upbeat Kings XI Punjab at Mohali, a television channel aired Mallya’s statements that brought further pressure on an already struggling outfit.

When the action finally commenced at the Punjab Cricket Stadium, the script followed a predictable course. Bangalore lost wickets at regular intervals and eventually set a not-so-formidable target of 144 on a batting-friendly surface.

It needed just three Aussies — openers Shaun Marsh, James Hopes and debutant Luke Pomersbach — under 16 overs to finish the job for Kings XI. Marsh picked up his second Man of the Match award following an unbeaten 74. This youngster, who had not opened for the last six months, has filled the spot of an opener with aplomb. His clean hitting has stood out. What makes Marsh increasingly dangerous is the amazing consistency with which he has performed so far in the competition.

While Kings XI has been on a cruise mode, the nine-wicket defeat ended Royal Challengers’ hopes of making the last-four stage. Even after the competition moved into the second half of the league, Bangalore, somehow, failed to tackle its teething troubles.With Wasim Jaffer injured and Jacques Kallis woefully out of form, Bangalore has been busy in trying out a fresh opening pair in almost every match. It has also been tinkering with its combination.

Losing wickets at the top has brought the middle-order under tremendous pressure. The situation looked no different when J. Arun Kumar, Virat Kohli and Misbah-ul-Haq departed in quick succession without much on the board. In fact, Kohli and Misbah got off to a reasonable start but failed to make the most of it. Misbah, who was particularly severe on S. Sreesanth, fell hit wicket to the Kerala bowler. Dravid and Mark Boucher gave the total some respectability without scoring very briskly.

For Kings XI, Sreesanth and Irfan Pathan once again took wickets upfront. V. R. V. Singh came up with a surprisingly economical spell of 4-0-15-1 after Piyush Chawla had struck in the middle overs. For a team that lost its first two matches, Kings XI has grown in strength. The team has found performers at the right time. Apart from the batsmen, the bowlers too have found their groove. This has led to a well-settled combination. And the results are showing.

THE SCORES

Royal Challengers, Bangalore v Kings XI, Punjab, PCA Stadium, Mohali, May 12, 2008.

Result: Kings XI, Punjab won by nine wickets.

Royal Challengers, Bangalore 143 for eight in 20 overs (M. Boucher 39, R. Dravid 29, M. Haq 21, V. Kohli 21, S. Sreesanth 3-29, P. Chawla 2-33) lost to Kings XI, Punjab 144 for one in 15.4 overs (S. Marsh 74 n.o., L. Pomersbach 34 n.o., J. Hopes 27).