The ongoing week of the 2023 Indian Premier League (IPL) has not gone well for the home sides. Every team has lost their first game at home. Bangalore on Monday before clinching a victory on Saturday afternoon, Delhi on Tuesday, Chennai on Wednesday and so on. Home sides have strangely faltered quite consistently this week.
In anticipation of Match 21, Lucknow Super Giants were favorites to break this streak. They had won both their home games prior to this contest quite convincingly. They achieved that by responding to the varying conditions of their home ground, the Ekana Stadium, with largely astute decision-making. They were placed second in the points table (they still are).
On the other hand, Punjab Kings were placed at their favourite sixth spot, a classical sign of a team yet to find its feet. The gulf widened when Punjab’s skipper Shikhar Dhawan, also the leading batter with nearly 28% of the team runs at present, was marked absent from the game.
However, in a momentous win, Punjab outsmarted the KL Rahul-led side in their own den to continue the trend. They did it with plenty of positives for themselves and exposed Lucknow on various fronts which we will discuss in this piece.
KL Rahul’s approach under the scanner again
The Lucknow skipper’s strike-rate is once again a major talking point around the franchise this season. His 20-ball 18 in a 213-run chase against RCB only made things tougher for his team, even though he may not admit that.
Against Punjab in his fourth outing, Rahul managed to amass his first half-century of the season. But his perplexed approach didn’t help his side as much as his 19-over stay should have.
His strike-rate didn’t consistently go beyond 100 up until the halfway mark. There was a surge around the halfway mark but it never took off from there. He brought his fifty from 40 balls. Despite having wickets in hand, Lucknow garnered only 62 runs in the middle-phase (overs 7 to 15).
Rahul’s approach contradicted his assessment of the pitch in the post-match interview. “We were about 10 [runs] short. If a few guys get going, we can get that 180-190 mark but unfortunately today a few batters got caught on the boundary lines,” he said.
For Lucknow, Rahul was the batter who got going but didn’t create enough pressure on the Punjab bowlers. With the Impact Player rule, Lucknow often have Krishnappa Gowtham batting at number eight which makes Rahul’s approach more questionable. He didn’t have the advantage of dew like the Punjab batters but Rahul’s knock still left a lot to be desired.
Krunal won’t work every time at 4
Lucknow’s obsession with making Krunal Pandya work at number four is not working out at all. He has scored only 74 runs off 64 balls, playing all his five innings at number four. Fair to say, he is not fulfilling his role as an aggressor in the middle.
Lucknow have done that to preserve Nicholas Pooran at number six and continue the LHB-RHB pair with Pandya at four. While the move makes sense for games like Bangalore where Lucknow lost early wickets, this game presented the perfect opportunity for Pooran (or Marcus Stoinis) to get their eye in on a tricky surface. Instead, they walked out to bat with limited time in hands - in the 14th and the 15th over.
Rahul’s approach meant they batted with the extra pressure of going for the big shots early in their innings. Consequently, the hosts missed out on a great launching pad, crashing from 108/2 in 14 overs to 159/8 in the next six overs. Stoinis scored an 11-ball 15 while Pooran bagged a duck.
Lucknow are a side that works heavily on match-ups and go a great length to satisfy the subtleties of T20 cricket. But the regular promotion of Pandya at number four is arguably too smart for their own good.
Where was Ravi Bishnoi?
Lucknow’s decision to not bowl Ravi Bishnoi until the 15th over beggars belief. The leg-spinner is clearly one of their best bowlers in the tournament and has done well at the Ekana Stadium, picking figures of 2/31 and 1/16 in eight overs combined here. It was shocking that Lucknow didn’t use their best bowler for so long while defending an underpar total.
Bishnoi picked 2/18 bowling only 2.3 overs in the game, proving these tactics wrong. There are no indications that Bishnoi was injured or unavailable to bowl due to any reason. Punjab’s middling record against spin in the season further puts Rahul’s decision making as captain under the scanner.
Punjab did ensure they always had a left-hander with Sam Curran batting at number six. However, Bishnoi has a superior bowling record versus left-handers in IPL, averaging 21.1 against left-handers as compared to 30.8 against right-handers. There was dew in the second innings which raise more questions over Bishnoi’s usage. Overall, there is no way by which you can justify this move.
The bowling pieces coming together
Two points underlined Punjab’s brilliance with the ball. In one of their biggest positives, Kagiso Rabada came good finally. The supposed leader of their bowling attack, Rabada snaffled 2/34 in his four overs. His twin strikes in the 15th over derailed Lucknow off their progress while setting a target.
Towards the end, Punjab had their best death bowling performance, conceding only 21 runs in the last three overs. There were plenty of accurate yorkers with Curran allowing only 12 runs for three wickets in two overs at the death. The big pieces are coming together in Punjab’s bowling line-up.
Raza and Shahrukh clicking with the bat
Sikandar Raza’s inclusion back in the XI was an inspiring change from Punjab. The Zimbabwean all-rounder was out of the XI in the previous game but replaced Bhanuka Rajapaksa here citing the conditions.
A good player of spin bowling, Raza countered the trio of Lucknow spinners, scoring 41 runs off 27 balls against spin. He was scratchy for most part of the innings but prevented the side from getting bogged down in the chase. It was his acceleration during the middle-overs that KL Rahul missed in his innings. Add to his 1/19 in two overs with the ball, Raza became the first Zimbabwean player to score a half-century and pick the player-of-the-match award in the IPL history.
Alongside Raza, Shahrukh Khan coming good for the second game in a row was the cherry on the cake for Punjab. After a poor 2022 IPL (average 16.7, strike-rate 108.3), Shahrukh had an indifferent start to the 2023 season as well - 29 runs in three at a strike-rate of 136.8. In two successive games, however, Shahrukh has scored 22 off nine and now 23* off 10 balls.
Have Punjab found the role for him?
“The word around the dressing room is that he has worked very hard and the coaching staff have been clear with his role,” said the stand-in captain Sam Curran after the match. The role Curran is referring to is akin to what Dinesh Karthik did for Bangalore last year - come in late and create an impact in a space of 10-15 balls.
In his brief IPL career, Shahrukh averages 34 at a strike-rate of 204 when he has walked in to bat in the last five overs. When his entry point has been earlier than that, the similar numbers drop down to 15.4 and 105.3 in 14 innings.
These last two knocks are a massive boost to Punjab, instilling their confidence in one of the major links of their XI.
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