And thus ends the Kings XI Punjab fairytale. After an abysmal first half when KXIP had one win in seven games, they stormed back winning five on the trot.
Just when it felt like they can script a comeback for the ages, they suffered a setback against Ben Stokes and co in their last game. Now, as their core faltered to make a mark in a must-win game against the Chennai Super Kings, KXIP suffered a thumping 9-wicket defeat that crushed their hopes in IPL 2020.
On a day when they needed a lot their stars – astronomical and on the field - to align, nothing worked their way. If not for Deepak Hooda’s half-century after a gap of 47 innings that helped them to a face-saving 153, their defeat would have been even more one-sided. Especially when they played a bowler short after inserting Mayank Agarwal in place of Arshdeep Singh.
As it happens, while their guns misfired, even luck was with the opposition camp. Faf du Plessis survived a caught behind decision in the seventh over. In the eighth over, Ruturaj Gaikwad played a cut straight to backward point. The on-field signal was out largely due to the way Mandeep Singh celebrated after the attempt.
However, the third umpire, Chris Gaffney, felt that he was not in control of the ball when his elbows touched the ground. He reversed the on-field decision much to the dismay of KXIP players and Anil Kumble, their head coach.
In the 15th over, it was KL Rahul himself who failed to hold on to a healthy edge from Ambati Rayudu against Murugan Ashwin. With the target being sub-par it is unfair to say that these would have changed the ultimate result. But, you just never know. Especially in hindsight and if you are in the KXIP camp.
Mayank short-lived but an impactful comeback
As the most dominant opening pair this season got together again, KXIP started strong with 53 runs in the Powerplay. With Mayank back in the side, there was rhythm in KXIP's innings from the get-go.
In a mood to make a difference, Mayank did not allow the usually economical Sam Curran to dominate. Throwing his bat around, he hit him for two boundaries in his second over, the fourth of the innings.
In the last over of the Powerplay, Mayank welcomed Lungi Ngidi with a well-timed drive over the mid-off fielder. However, the South African curtailed Mayank’s knock on the next ball to a 15-ball 26 as he played a pull shot back onto his stumps.
KXIP derailed in the middle-overs
In what was just a bizarre show of batting, KXIP scored 42 runs and lost three wickets in the nine overs to follow after the Powerplay. These included the wickets of the batsmen that have had the most impact on KXIP's chances this season: Rahul, Chris Gayle and Nicholas Pooran.
After his usual sedate start early on, Rahul opened up during with Powerplay with a cut shot in the third over that cleared the fence at the third man region. He then hit Shardul Thakur for two boundaries in the fifth over.
However, the middle-over slump for KXIP started with Rahul missing a sweep and getting bowled in the ninth over by Ngidi. Two overs later, Shardul continued his wicket-taking streak as Pooran inside-edged an attempted pull to MS Dhoni behind the stumps.
Bad got worse for KXIP in the next over, 12th of the innings. There was a thought that CSK included Imran Tahir as a counter for Gayle. The move proved a masterstroke as Gayle missed a sweep to a ball that found him plumb in front. This was only the second time in IPL history when Gayle played more than 15 balls but did not hit a boundary.
Hooda’s day out
Just when they looked down and out KXIP found a hero in Hooda. While others around him struggled to bat at run a ball, Hooda played at a strike-rate of 206.7 on his way to a career-best 62*. It was his knock that helped KXIP score 58 runs in the last five overs to post a total that looked unachievable when they were 113/7 in the 18th over.
The most attractive aspect of Hooda’s batting was his counter-attack to the trendy death-over tactic to keep the ball wide of the stumps. He was severe through the cover and long-off region as he hit two sixes and two fours against pacers in that area.
Moreover, he was brilliant with running between the wickets as well as he ran seven doubles in his innings in his 20-ball stay.
Gaikwad’s record run
Chasing 154, Gaikwad registered his third consecutive half-century and became the only CSK batsmen to achieve that feat. Helped by his recent success, CSK started with the second consecutive Powerplay without losing a wicket.
Gaikwad was scratchy to start with and was on three off the first 11 balls. There was loads of plays and misses against Mohammed Shami and mistimed strokes whenever he made contact against others.
His partner, du Plessis, rode his luck. A misfield got him a boundary in the first over. He got a bigger reprieve when Hooda dropped a tough chance, running back from mid-on. He celebrated it with a six via a ramp shot over fine leg.
After a wicket-less Powerplay, moments that KXIP needed to keep themselves inspired continued to evade them. Such was the frustration of the decision on the catch earlier that when Rahul caught a skied ramp shot off du Plessis in the 10th over, he turned and put his hands up as if appealing directly to the third umpire.
After an opening partnership of 82 runs, Rayudu and Gaikwad milked KXIP’s bowlers with an unbeaten 72 run stand. In addition to his exploits in the Powerplay, Gaikwad hit five more boundaries at regular intervals. The second-last of these, a drive through extra cover off Ravi Bishnoi brought up his record half-century. With the way he has ended the season, the hidden spark in CSK’s squad is now a wildfire.
Until next season, this was it for both sides in IPL 2020.