Nicholas Pooran of Kings XI Punjab plays a shot.
Nicholas Pooran of the Kings XI Punjab plays a shot during his whirlwind knock against the Delhi Capitals in the IPL 2020 game at the Dubai International Stadium on October 21, 2020. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

The rise and rise of the Kings XI Punjab have been incredible. For a team that had forgotten how to win, the turnaround in fortunes has been remarkable. Three wins in a row are reason enough to celebrate, especially since those scalps included two of the mightiest teams in IPL 2020: the Mumbai Indians and the Delhi Capitals. Punjab have to be taken seriously on the sheer strength of those wins. They will be a dark horse in the race for the playoff spots.

Look back at the first half of Season 13, and you will see the struggles of Punjab. For a bunch of talented players, they failed to fire as a team. The result was some narrow losses. They even lost games from winning positions. And that gave the distinct feeling that Punjab didn’t have it in them to make the playoffs.

All that changed in less than a week. And the catalyst for the change is Chris Gayle. The West Indian has brought an urgency to the batting that allowed skipper KL Rahul to anchor the innings without fear of falling behind the run rate. Till Gayle’s induction, Punjab’s batting was limited to Rahul and Mayank Agarwal besides the cameos from Nicholas Pooran.

Gayle is not the only reason for the change. An allrounder, who comes late in the batting order, Deepak Hooda’s cool head was also a factor in Rajasthan’s last two chases.

New tactics too helped. Opening the bowling with Glen Maxwell has worked well, and the Australian seems to be running into form with the bat as well. Murugan Ashwin’s contribution in the middle over cannot be overlooked. Mohammed Shami and Ravi Bishnoi have been consistent, and young Arshdeep Singh too has been impressive.

It’s clear that the team is pulling to together. And the results are there to be seen. When a historic second century in a row from Shikhar Dhawan fails to win the game for the Delhi Capitals, it speaks volumes about Punjab’s performance.

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First, they didn’t allow Delhi to capitalise on the brisk start in powerplay by strangling Dhawan’s partners. The next best score after Dhawan’s unbeaten 106 was 14. The chase too was brilliant despite the early exits of the reliable pair of Rahul and Mayank Agarwal. Gayle and Pooran whipped up a storm that catapulted Punjab to victory.

While Punjab savour the win and relish the prospect of a playoff berth, Delhi have time for introspection. Prithvi Shaw’s loss of form is a worry, and Rishabh Pant looks scratchy after the injury-enforced absence. The rest of the team seems formidable. Yet, they need to find more consistency if they have to land the maiden IPL title.