The season began with a lot of promise for Kings XI Punjab. They started with two wins before losing their way somewhat, but had a resurgence in the third quarter of the league phase. With the home stretch looming, Punjab had a reasonable shot at making the playoffs for the first time since 2014. In the end, they made it difficult for themselves, losing some close matches, in part due to lamentable catching. They made a final bull run, defeating Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians, but collapsed to 73 all out in their last match against Rising Pune Supergiant.
When the last week of IPL 2017 began, Punjab needed to beat the three teams topping the points table to make the playoffs. Their bowling came to the fore against Kolkata, while the batting was magnificent against Mumbai. Those two matches, within a couple of days of each other, showcased Punjab at their best. Against strong, well-rounded teams, facing do-or-die pressure – for two years, Punjab had fluffed their lines when faced with these situations; this time around, they gave their best. For the context of the performances, it was even better than their 67 all out demolition of Delhi Daredevils.
What did not work for the team
Punjab’s strategy seemed hard to fathom. At the start, they picked up Ishant Sharma for the injured M Vijay. This when they already had a clutch of seamers and Ishant hasn’t had success in T20s like he has with the red ball. Then they insisted on filling up the four overseas players quota with only batsmen, not bringing in Matt Henry to beef up a fragile bowling unit. They even dropped Manan Vohra from the XI, when his 95 against Hyderabad was among the best knocks of the tournament. In short, Punjab’s thinking seemed muddled, and it reflected on their performances.
Axar Patel was the brightest star for Punjab by a distance. His lower order runs were extremely valuable, and he was Punjab’s best bowler. Any season that has returns of 227 runs at an average of 28.37 and a strike-rate of 140.12, to go with 15 wickets at 24.13 and economy rate of 7.54 is an astounding one. Axar’s contribution could have well carried Punjab into the playoffs if there had been some consistent support. As it was, it still allowed Punjab to finish fifth, and an even record of seven wins and losses each, far better than the lows of 2015 and 2016.
David Miller had made his “in the arc, out of the park; in the ‘v’, it’s in the tree” saying famous with Punjab. The batsmen who turned up this season looked like he didn’t belong on the park. He had been made captain last year before Vijay replaced him. This year, he got a grand total of five matches and four innings. Each one was a failure, as 83 runs overall at barely a run-a-ball illustrated. The Miller romance with Punjab seems to be a thing of the past, and for whatever reason, the hard-hitting South African and the franchise seem to have fallen out of love with each other.
Highest run-getter: Hashim Amla: 420 runs in 10 matches. Average: 60.00; Strike-rate: 145.83.
Highest wicket-taker: Sandeep Sharma: 17 wickets in 13 matches. Average: 23.41; Economy rate: 8.29.