Dubai: It’s still premature to say if the Kings XI Punjab campaign has received a fresh lease of life after their emphatic eight-wicket win in Sharjah on Thursday, but the addition of ‘Universe Boss’ Chris Gayle certainly added a gravitas to their batting line-up which they had been sorely lacking so far.
Much as the batting line-up of the wooden spooners may have looked good on paper, it was too dependant on the classy opening pair of skipper KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal. With the young Nicholas Pooran blowing hot and cold and Glenn Maxwell nowhere near the destructive form which he showed even in last month’s white ball series for Australia, there was no reliable name to shore up the middle order - though I am not really sure if Gayle could be the perfect number three during the remaining matches in venues like Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
The match-winning 53 which he scored against Royal Challengers Bangalore was a testimony to the Jamaican’s wealth of experience and muscle memory - but it was heartening to see that adjudicators of the Man of the Match award still preferred Rahul for batting through the innings and ‘completing’ the job at hand.
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It’s not an easy job to dismantle arguably the best opening parternship of this IPL in Rahul and Mayank Agarwal, but my personal feeling is that the right spot for Gayle is still to come at the top of the order with someone like Agarwal. Well, the suggestion may invite some sneer but fact remains that given the question mark over the fitness levels of the giant West Indian, now 41, it could be a calculated gamble on part of the team’s brains trust to have him open the batting and try to demoralise the opposition with the best use of power play overs.
The reflexes may have slowed down a tad but Gayle had always loved to feed off the pace of the bowler. It’s difficult to see him assume the role of No.3 permanently in the bigger venues - which may very often require him to bat almost the whole duration of the innings, run the hard singles and twos to keep the scoreboard moving on the progressively slower wickets. Rahul, on the other hand, has batted in the middle order for India and has both the flexibility and technique to take up his spot.
Meanwhile, the defeat was bit of an aberration on part of Virat Kohli’s men after a few back-to-back wins - thought some of his captaincy decisions seemed inexplicable. The move to send AB de Villiers at No.6 - after Washington Sundar and Shivam Dube - did not quite wash despite Kohli’s explanation that he wanted a left-hander in early as Kings XI had two leggies operating in tandem.
The other mystifying issue was not giving Sundar a go during the power play overs when the Kings XI Punjab had got off to a rollicking start. The tall off spinner had done a commendable job in providing breakthroughs early in the previous games and could have been used earlier to slow down things.