With a little bit of luck, Kings XI Punjab would have been in the top four at the halfway stage of Season 13 of the Indian Premier League, instead of propping up the foot of the table with just one win from seven matches.
Actually, strike that. Luck has played little part in their predicament; this situation is entirely of their own making.
Thrice in those six losses, the warm embrace of victory loomed tantalizingly close. Each time, Kings XI found novel ways of snatching defeat with victory imminent. What’s it that Stephen King once said? “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, shame on both of us.”
In their first match, Kings XI were within one run of victory with three deliveries remaining against Delhi Capitals, a well-set Mayank Agarwal in complete command. Somehow, Agarwal managed to find the only man in the deep off a Marcus Stoinis full toss, and Chris Jordan picked out square-leg with another full toss. The game went into a Super Over, and Kagiso Rabada closed it out expertly for Delhi.
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After schooling Royal Challengers Bangalore, Kings XI rattled up 223 for two in Sharjah and had Rajasthan Royals on the mat at 140 for two after 15. Even given the size of the ground, 84 in five overs was a huge ask, particularly with Rahul Tewatia floundering on 8 off 19. In a dramatic meltdown, Kings XI conceded 11 sixes in 22 deliveries, including five in one Sheldon Cottrell over, losing with three deliveries to spare.
There was more to come. On Saturday, they cruised to 143 for one after 17 overs, needing just 22 from 19 deliveries against Kolkata Knight Riders. Astonishingly, they lost by two runs through a combination of addled thinking and strange decision-making. One could only commiserate with first-time skipper KL Rahul when he said later, “I have no answers.”
One can’t even start to imagine what must be going through Rahul’s mind. The stylish right-hander is the leading run-scorer with 387 runs, his closest competitor for the Orange Cap is good friend and opening partner Mayank Agarwal (337). The Karnataka duo has provided starts of 30, 57, 183, 38, 61, 11 and 115. And yet…
And yet, neither has stayed put long enough to get the job done. Harsh as it might sound, they must assume some of the blame, their exceptional contributions notwithstanding. Agarwal should have got them over the line against Delhi, Rahul ought to have seen them through against Kolkata, considering they had dragged the team to the doorstep of victory. By now, they should have learned not to leave anything to chance. But that’s only a quarter of the story.
Kings XI have been badly let down by their overseas professionals. His heroics in 2014 apart, Glenn Maxwell has had a particularly underwhelming IPL career for different franchises, while paceman Chris Jordan has spectacularly managed to conceal his hyped skills as a death-overs specialist, leaking 12.27 runs on an average from each of his 11 overs. Cottrell has gone off the boil since the Tewatia hammering. The only exception has been the exciting Nicholas Pooran, though it was his ill-advised hoick against Sunil Narine that opened the door for Kolkata to step in and deliver the knockout punch on Saturday.
Pooran’s dismissal exposed the lack of game awareness that has plagued Punjab all season. The team required just over a run a ball, Narine was always going to be a threat and, with Andre Russell out injured, Prasidh Krishna – playing his first game of the campaign – would have to fill in at closing stages. Commonsense dictated that Narine be milked and the others targeted. Pooran gave commonsense the heave-ho, triggering an incredible implosion that must have left head coach Anil Kumble fuming.
Kumble has been there and done that, but not even his calming, erudite influence seems to be rubbing off on his wards. A wave of negativity is coursing the ranks at the moment, the fear of failure paradoxically the one factor preventing them from shedding failure.
There’s an unflattering word used to describe the act of repeatedly losing from winning positions. It’s neither derogatory nor abusive, but whenever the word ‘chokers’ is used, teams and individuals bristle. In international cricket, South Africa have made that tag their own with consistent snafus; it won’t be long before Kings XI are saddled with that label if they don’t shed this unwelcome development.
What to expect now?
Their spirits must understandably have been dampened when they looked a gift horse in the mouth against Delhi, but they would also have dismissed it as a one-off. Until Rajasthan happened. Now, after the three-peat against Kolkata, it will require a great show of character for them to close out a match from a similar position, should it arise any time soon.
Just as winning is a habit, losing in this fashion could be contagious. It’s most likely that going forward, when they close in on victory, disturbing images of past indiscretions will play themselves over and over again in the mind’s eye. The feet will turn leaden, the breaths will get sharper and shorter, the heart will pound alarmingly rapidly, the mind will go into shutdown mode. All of us who have played sport at any level will have experienced this feeling at some stage. As it is, the pressure is immense on the IPL platform; additional, self-imposed anxiety is hardly recommended.
So, where do Kings XI go from here? How do they crack the formula to victory? There is no magic potion, no stirring pep-talk from Kumble or Rahul that will do the trick. All they can do when they play themselves into a winning position next is keep their eye on the ball, and will themselves to take the final, most pivotal steps. Just once. After that, they themselves will be pleasantly surprised at how easily the wheel starts rolling.