The first whip
After his 12-ball 31 proved to be the difference for Kings XI Punjab against Royal Challengers Bangalore, Wriddhiman Saha was the danger man. He had been shuffled between the top and middle order in the tournament but was sent out to open against Chennai Super Kings. MS Dhoni asked left-arm spinner Pawan Negi to open the bowling and it was a smart move to tempt Saha and Manan Vohra to take on the slow bowler. Saha remain rooted in his crease for the better part of the first over and even lofted an easy four over the cover fielder. In Negi's next over, the batsman tried to create room to once again hit over the offside but was badly beaten by turn and offered a simple catch to cover. It was an effortless kill.
A desperate, ultimately futile, promotion
George Bailey rushed in to replace Saha. Most fans did not even notice him and in fact thought it was their favourite Glenn Maxwell at the crease. Even the big screen had Maxwell as the new batsman, but it was indeed Bailey. It was another experiment by Kings XI Punjab in their final match. But why? Before this game, Bailey had batted at No. 3 only twice in the IPL, managing 19 runs. Despite a terrible season he has been the second-best batsman for Kings XI this year behind David Miller but those runs have come in the lower order where his calm proved crucial at times. Today, Bailey started confidently, hitting a couple of fours, but facing the first ball from Ashish Nehra - a slanted delivery moving away - Bailey edged the ball into Dhoni's gloves.
Maxwell's empty bag of tricks
The crowd erupted as soon as they saw Maxwell walk in, but the batsman started with an uncharacteristic waiting game. He did unleash a Ponting-esque pull on the front foot nonchalantly for his first four, but only six runs came off 14 balls. He had even managed to just nudge and dab against his once famous whipping boy, R Ashwin but facing the first delivery from left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, Maxwell went for a reverse sweep. The ball had pitched on leg stump and was too close for him to attempt the stroke. Not surprisingly, next ball Maxwell once again attempted the same stroke. Once again Jadeja had pitched it on leg stump and on length and, once again, the ball hit the pads. Then Maxwell suffered a brain fade and failed to react to a ball that pitched on middle stump and straightened to knock back the off stump. Maxwell stood there for a moment, amazed and appalled. On his way back, he kicked the stump in disgust. Kings XI's best batsman last season, who had set the IPL alight with his audacity and creativity, was a minimal presence this season.
Defending a low score is never easy, but ask Dhoni and co. who have on numerous occasions managed to turn a low-scoring affair in their favour through a combination of expert leadership, good fielding and an experienced bowling attack. An attacking field customised to each batsman's weakness is also something successful teams usually deploy immediately. Sadly Kings XI were lacking on all these fronts today. The best chance to dominate came once the Super Kings opening pair of Michael Hussey and Brendon McCullum returned in quick succession, but the Kings XI bowlers bowled predictable lines and failed to attack Faf du Plessis and Suresh Raina. It did not help when Maxwell was surprised by a return chance from Raina and failed to latch on to the catch. Raina was on 20 and Super Kings were 54 for 2 in the seventh over. Both Raina and du Plessis took advantage of the vast gaps in the field and picked easy singles and twos and, whenever the bowler faltered, hit easy boundaries to exhaust and negate the opposition.
The helpless walk
On Saturday afternoon Sanjay Bangar, the Kings XI coach, walked four times on to the field - during the strategic time-outs - to have a word with his players. There was never an urgency in his walk to and from the dugout. What Bangar told his team is irrelevant but as Rahul Dravid wisely said, if players need a pep talk on match-day then they are playing for the wrong team. This season has been a learning lesson even for Bangar, who took over the role only last year. Bangar, a phlegmatic man, will work hard but he needs to improvise and adapt quickly. Without altering too much, he still needs to get the best out of his players. It will never be easy but he needs to put an end to the defeated walks from the dugout to the pitch.