The Kings XI Punjab Punjab have played four matches so far in IPL 2020, with just one win to show for. In their Super-Over defeat to the Delhi Capitals in their opener, Chris Jordan leaked 30 runs in the last over of the first innings in regulation time. In their defeat to the Rajasthan Royals on Sunday, Sheldon Cottrell went for 30 in the 18th over as Rahul Tewatia pulled off a jailbreak for the ages.
In their most recent defeat to the Mumbai Indians on Thursday, it appeared like the Kings XI didn't even have a death-bowling plan. Seam-bowing allrounder James Neesham gave away 40 off the 16th and 18th over of the innings while offspinner K Gowtham, who was left to bowl the 20th over against Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya, conceded 25.
These are still early days in the season, but their death-overs economy of 16, the worst among the eight sides, is a worry for the Kings XI. Here's a rundown of the options available for the Kings XI to address this issue.
Sure, Chris Jordan repeatedly missed his lengths against the Capitals, but he is the only bona fide death bowler in the Kings XI side. It's for his death bowling the Kings XI bought him for INR 1 crore in the 2019 auction. The yorker is probably the most difficult delivery to execute: you overpitch, it comes out as a full-toss. You underpitch, it becomes a half-volley. Other factors like dew and shorter boundaries could thwart your best-laid plans as well. Jordan brings with him that ability to nail yorkers. According to ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data, since the 2016 T20 World Cup, he has hit the blockhole 77 times, giving away 56 runs and taking eight wickets. Only Dwayne Bravo and Jasprit Bumrah have bowled more yorkers than Jordan in this period in T20 cricket. And only Bumrah (nine) has captured more wickets with the yorker than him in this period.
Jordan is also an excellent fielder - off his own bowling, in the infield, and even in the outfield. Plus, he can also hit big lower down the order. If the Kings XI are to recall Jordan, then they might have to leave out Neesham, who can be effective with his back-of-a-length legcutters in the middle overs but has travelled in the slog overs this IPL as well as in the recent CPL.
Jordan also has the experience of having delivered at the death in the subcontinent although it was more than four years ago, in the T20 World Cup semi-final against New Zealand in Delhi. He darted swerving yorkers and conceded just 12 runs in two overs at the death while also dismissing Ross Taylor. More recently in November 2019, he defended 17 in the Super Over with his variations to take England to victory against the same opponents. Seventeen runs would be easy to defend on most other grounds, but it's not that easy at Eden Park.
The Kings XI could also consider replacing Neesham with Mujeeb Ur Rahman. The Afghanistan spinner, who can turn the ball both ways, was the second-highest wicket-taker in CPL 2020 and is second on the ICC T20I rankings. He bowled in the powerplay for the Jamaica Tallawahs in the CPL but can bowl in the middle overs and also do the job at the death.
In all, Mujeeb has bowled 36 overs at the death in T20 cricket, claiming 21 wickets at an economy of 8.11. However, that economy at the death in the IPL shoots up to 12.42 but the sample size is smaller (seven overs).
Picking Mujeeb over or Neesham could leave Kings XI thin on the batting front. Or are they bold enough to punt on Mujeeb's X-factor and back their openers, Nicholas Pooran, Glenn Maxwell, and Sarfaraz Khan to carry the batting? If they need more power in the middle order to accommodate Mujeeb, Deepak Hooda or Mandeep Singh could be given a go instead of Karun Nair, whose batting is more suited to anchoring an innings at the top than finishing it.
The uncapped Ishan Porel and Arshdeep Singh are left-field choices for the Kings XI. If they want to pick Mujeeb over Neesham and add an extra seamer to the attack at the expense of Gowtham or M Ashwin, Porel or Singh could be brought in.
Porel, who was part of the Under-19 World Cup-winning team in 2018, has now increased his pace to 140kph. The right-arm quick opened the attack for India A in the one-dayers in New Zealand but is unproven in T20 cricket. Will Kings XI make the tough choice of asking him to bowl at the death on IPL debut?
Singh isn't as quick as Porel but offers left-arm variety. Do Kings XI really need another left-arm seamer when they already have Cottrell in the XI? Moreover, Singh hasn't played top-flight T20 cricket since IPL 2019.
Take a punt on Hardus Viljoen
Another left-field overseas option is South African quick Hardus Viljoen who is a T20 - and T10 - globetrotter. On his day, Viljoen can execute his yorkers and also has a slower dipper that has been mastered by the likes of Bravo and Lasith Malinga. In the Abu Dhabi T10 league in 2018-19, Viljoen had topped the wickets charts with 18 strikes at an economy of 7.77.
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo