When Punjab Kings set foot on the Middle East soil, flashbacks certainly haunted them. Last season same time, Punjab were in a far worse position than they find themselves now but a last ditch made efforts from them almost made the qualification seem possible. The key word being: almost.
Punjab face a similar test this time around, with two losses out of three in the Middle East leg, they find themselves in the crossroads of qualification. KL Rahul’s side have had multiple moving parts in the same puzzle – shaky middle-order, unreal dependence on the top order and a bowling unit that is still finding its feet.
To top it all, they face one of the in-form sides in Kolkata Knight Riders, a side which have had their number in the past season. Even though the Knights have had their share of victims to injuries, the team has found heroes every nook and corner, which has propelled their chances of making it to the playoffs.
Despite three wins out of four in the second phase, there are some glaring issues that persists in Kolkata’s armour. Will Punjab find the chinks in Dubai on Friday (October 1) or would they succumb down to their own standards?
Narine-Chakravarthy and the UAE
While Sunil Narine is from the Caribbean and Varun Chakravarthy is from India, it is safe to say that the spin duo have found a comfortable home in the Middle East. Together, they have scaled the Kolkata bowling unit to greater heights and last year in the same fixture tormented Punjab to an all-time low.
In the second leg, Narine has picked up six wickets in four games, at an average of 16.5, conceding just 6.2 RPO. Against Punjab, the mystery spinner has picked up 30 wickets, striking at 15.4 and at an economy rate of 6.9. While his mystery might have failed against Chennai but it is what has kept KKR stable.
KKR’s spin attack, which essentially is Narine-Chakravarthy, have the second-best record in the Middle East, with 10 wickets and maintain the best economy rate in the tournament, at 5.6. In tandem, the pair has struck eight times this season when in a spell together, having an economy rate of 5.7 during the spell. While they might have had a rather slow start in India, the change in venue has definitely been an upgrade for the duo.
Can Punjab field a better middle-order unit?
Time and again, Punjab’s fragile middle-order has been under the scanner and rightfully too, with them just combining to score 432 runs, averaging 19.6 at a strike-rate of 111. While Aiden Markram has been impressive, the form of Nicholas Pooran and Chris Gayle combined with the trust in Deepak Hooda has let the franchise down.
Barring Gayle, no other middle-order batsmen have aggregated three-figure tally. The closest best is Hooda, who has scored 99 runs but at an average of 19.8, strike-rate of 134. Pooran’s terrible decline with just 41 runs has definitely cost the franchise. What possibly could they do? One of the best possible inclusion for the franchise could be the Tamil Nadu dasher Shahrukh Khan.
In the last five overs, Punjab Kings have the second-lowest run-rate with the bat, averaging just 19.5 runs/wicket, scoring a boundary every 5.9th delivery. At the death overs with the bat, Shahrukh has scored 57 runs for the franchise, at a strike-rate of 146, which is only bettered by Gayle and Hooda. In addition, his strike rate for Tamil Nadu in the 2021 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (220) could certainly propel his chances of making a comeback at the expense of Pooran.
Captain Morgan battling the poor form
When Ishan Kishan was dropped for averaging 13.4 this season, there was a southpaw elsewhere in the Kolkata camp trying to have a hard look at his own form – Eoin Morgan. Morgan has the lowest average for any batsman this season, at 11.9 with the second lowest strike-rate at 101. Only Morgan has been dismissed in the first 15 balls more than Suryakumar Yadav, with eight dismissals.
In his first 15 balls at the crease, the English batsman averages 8.5 with a strike-rate of 93, losing eight wickets. Only Ricky Ponting in 2013 as a captain had an average lesser than Morgan’s but the Australian stepped down immediately from captaincy. Across all IPL seasons, Morgan has had the second-worst record, only behind Deepak Hooda, averaging 11.9.
While Morgan might have come out and said that he isn’t too worried about his form, there is a genuine case for him to be worried. Among 27 overseas players, who have batted at least 60 innings, Morgan’s average (23.4) betters Sunil Narine (15.9) and Dwayne Bravo (22.9), with the latter being bowling all-rounders. High risk, high returns has been Morgan’s go-to-mantra but in a fiery-league like the IPL, the southpaw needs to find his ‘B’ team before it becomes too late.
Punjab Kings: KL Rahul (c & wk), Mayank Agarwal, Aiden Markram, Nicholas Pooran, Shahrukh Khan, Chris Jordan, Harpreet Brar, Nathan Ellis, Mohammed Shami, Ravi Bishnoi, Arshdeep Singh
Kolkata Knight Riders: Shubman Gill, Venkatesh Iyer, Rahul Tripathi, Eoin Morgan (c), Nitish Rana, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Sunil Narine, Tim Southee, Lockie Ferguson, Sandeep Warrier, Varun Chakravarthy
Update: Chris Gayle has left the Punjab Kings bio-bubble, high-chances that the franchise might pick Chris Jordan as his replacement