Appalling KXIP leave chinks wide open

'"We aren't one of the top champion sides to be honest, we are one of those sides that punched above our weight in the first half of the competition" - Ashwin © BCCI


How good were the Royal Challengers Bangalore tonight? They bowled with vigour, the fielding was top-notch and the batsmen enjoyed the small chase to the hilt. Virat Kohli couldn't have asked for an easier night in the field. He set the fields and the opposition batsmen fell right into those well-planned traps to be cleaned up by the 16th over.



Kohli then came out to bat at the top, played with 'intent' and the chase was done and dusted. The entire match lasted less than the time that the new 100-ball tournament that England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have planned. Perhaps, this game was an advertisement for its future. In short, RCB were brilliant. On the other hand, Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) were appalling.



It left the Indore crowd feeling dismayed. They had paid good money to watch the classy KL Rahul hit sixes and for a while he didn't disappoint them. However, he didn't last long to treat them to his full repertoire of shots. They paid to watch Chris Gayle bash a few out of the ground but the burly left-hander didn't oblige. They paid to watch Kohli treat them to more fours and sixes. Unfortunately, the target was too meagre for the RCB captain to play a substantial knock. They paid to come and watch AB de Villiers bat - the South African batsman didn't even venture out to the middle. The highly anticipated sold out match ended up as a very disappointing one-sided affair. The fans had come out to watch 210 minutes of action-packed cricket and all they witnessed was 140 minutes of absolute annihilation.



So where did things go wrong for the hosts? First and foremost, their over-dependence on the opening pair has hit the danger-level mark. Rahul again looked in good touch, while his opening partner Gayle can win matches single-handedly. But they have struggled to get the required support from rest of the batsmen. Karun Nair is the third highest run-getter for KXIP, but he has only compiled 247 runs at an ordinary average of 22.45. Mayank Agarwal's long rope hasn't helped and the fifth highest run-scorer has been captain Ravichandran Ashwin himself. That itself tells the tale of KXIP's batting.



"We have a problem with our batting," was the frank assessment of Ashwin at the end of the match. It is this open-mindedness and willingness to learn that has made him a leading Test match bowler and Ashwin wasn't far away from the truth as he spoke about the franchise. '"We aren't one of the top champion sides to be very honest, we are one of those sides that punched above our weight in the first half of the competition. To be very precise, I did expect to find ourselves in such a situation, but not this much; probably thought we might have won one or two more games and probably reached 14 or 16 points," he added.



If the batting hasn't been great, the bowling is slowly sliding down the abyss as well. Granted that KXIP's batsmen gave them no chance today, but the stats show that they have conceded 334 runs from the last 28.1 overs - approximately 12 runs per over. With both departments looking shaky, it has left the team with a massive headache. Speaking after the match, the KXIP captain admitted that such a loss was a tough pill to swallow. "There are no easy games in IPL," he said. "All the eight teams are extremely competitive and we just have to hope that the coming games will be good," he noted.



The last two losses have been heavy and that has resulted in the franchise sliding to the fifth place. Ashwin didn't lose sight of the fall in standards and emphasised the point that his team has to win their last couple of games. So what has gone wrong in their last two home games in Indore? "Not playing according to the situation," was what the captain reasoned. "Defending on this ground isn't easy. We perhaps made the mistake of trying to score more than the par score and thereby ended up losing wickets," the 31-year old added.



KXIP will finish their league campaign with two tough away matches; one in Mumbai and the other in Pune (against Chennai Super Kings.) "We have lost three on the bounce now, don't think we can lose four on the bounce. The next match is in Mumbai which has plenty of bounce and generally the foreign batsmen enjoy playing in those conditions, so hopefully our foreign batsmen will also come good," was his cheeky reply.



Ashwin can probably take solace from the fact that there have been several instances before, where a batsman suddenly lifted his game and made runs. He has also been a part of such franchises before. "I played in a franchise before called CSK where one batsman (Murali Vijay) made absolutely no runs during the league stage and then went on to make 95 in the final, big batsmen come good at the big moments," was his terse remark when asked about the lack of runs from the middle-order.



But can a Mayank Agarwal (120 runs from 10 knocks so far) turn out to be the player who could make an impact in the later stages of the tournament? "It's not rocket science, you need to have belief," Ashwin said. "He's a quality player, there's absolutely no time during the nets that he's looked out of form, it's just not worked for him, you got to feel sad that someone like him who has worked hard, got so many runs behind him during the recent domestic season is just not getting the desired results now," he added.



So how can the backroom staff lift the team's morale? Can the captain do anything that lifts the sagging spirits of a team that conceded 245 runs on the other day and were shot out for just 88 tonight? Ashwin thinks that there's no magic potion available and the onus was on the players to motivate themselves to perform at the highest level. "Look, I do a lot of leadership talks, it's not all that difficult, you just need to give a good enough speech in the dressing room. It's up to every individual to lift himself up. It's very important to forget these 12 games and look forward to the remaining two. Most teams are in the same case now - except for CSK and SRH. I believe we can be very dangerous at such times," Ashwin observed.



RCB were terrific today and won at a canter. That has resurrected their own hopes of making it to the playoffs while denting the chances of KXIP a little. However, as Ashwin noted there's still a long way to go before the final two slots are determined. If KXIP clear their minds ahead of Wednesday's encounter against Mumbai Indians, they might still envision hopes of going far ahead in this tournament.


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