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Indian Premier League 2020

KL Rahul didn’t get his sums wrong, KXIP got their team wrong

IPL playoffs
by Aadya Sharma 3-minute read

Kings XI Punjab’s struggles at the death continued in their defeat to Mumbai Indians on Thursday. They conceded 129 runs in their last ten overs in Dubai —  did they play the wrong bowling combination?

When KL Rahul decided to bowl out Sheldon Cottrell in the 13th over, a lot of eyes shifted to the KXIP’s team sheet. The bold move meant that one of their frontline spinners, or Jimmy Neesham, was left with the task of bowling at the death along with Mohammed Shami. The skipper eventually stuck to his five bowlers, opting not to employ Glenn Maxwell’s part-time finger-spin, and Mumbai Indians ended up looting 89 runs in the last five overs.

Rahul’s call to bowl out Cottrell felt like it was driven by two concerns, one attacking, the other defensive – targeting Rohit Sharma, who had already played 32 balls for his 40, and looked to be anchoring Mumbai towards a big total, and saving Cottrell from bowling at the death. The West Indian was coming in on the back of a hiding against Rajasthan, where he had given 52 runs in three overs, 30 of which had come off five balls in the 18th over.

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If Kings XI got Rohit then, reasoned Rahul, that might well be the game. If they didn’t, then maybe it didn’t matter who bowled at the death; whoever it was would go the distance.

The gamble didn’t pay off. Rohit batted until the 17th over before being dismissed for 70, and Punjab’s attack was left exposed at the back end; Jimmy Neesham and Krishnappa Gowtham wouldn’t be at the top of any team’s death-bowling plans, but sent down three of the last five overs of the Mumbai Indians innings and were taken apart by the rampaging duo of Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya.

Had Rahul overestimated Gowtham capabilities? Something of a powerplay specialist, he had bowled well up until the final over, picking up 1-20 in three overs in the middle of the innings. But against Pollard and Pandya, he was helplessly plundered for four sixes.

Neesham too cannot be identified as a death-ball specialist – according to CricViz, he has conceded at 11.49 runs per over when bowling at the death since the start of 2019.

 

In a way, this is part of what makes T20 cricket fascinating, and T20 captaincy tough. Rahul made a call, took a gamble, and it didn’t pay off. Mumbai Indians cashed in. But more concerning than any decisions taken on the field are those being made before the match starts.

Should Neesham make way for Mujeeb?

Looking at their overseas spot, it feels past time for Mujeeb Ur Rahman to get off the bench and play his first game this year. Neesham has gone the distance with the ball, and batting down at No.6 has hardly got the chance to make up with the bat. Ideally, Mujeeb should have started against Mumbai, where his tight channels in the powerplay could have troubled Rohit Sharma and Quinton de Kock, given their weakness against spin early on.

In the recently concluded Caribbean Premier League, Mujeeb was the second highest wicket-taker, picking up 16 wickets in 11 games. He picked up three-wicket hauls in three consecutive matches, and is a formidable option in the first six overs, as well as the middle overs. In 122 T20 games, his economy rate stands at 6.60.

That would leave Cottrell to bowl at the death alongside Shami, arguably weakening a strength, with Cottrell’s early inroads often proving valuable. Punjab also have Chris Jordan in their squad as a death-overs specialist. Despite the blip against Delhi Capitals, where he ran into a red-hot Marcus Stoinis, Jordan is one of the world’s most experienced death-bowling options, having bowled more deliveries in the last five overs than any other T20 bowler since the start of 2019. There is debate over his actual worth in that position, but Rahul and KXIP might be minded not to write him off after one poor game.

“Another bowling option would be nice,” KL Rahul conceded later. “[Perhaps] an all-rounder option who can bat and bowl well. I will be sitting with the coaches to decide if we want to play an extra bowler.” Their next game, against Chennai Super Kings on October 4, could see them walk out with a different line-up.

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