The Ring of Fire at Dubai welcomed Punjab and Hyderabad tonight for a low-profile clash. Both these teams have been competing for the wooden spoon, at the bottom of the table. However, the beauty of IPL is that even the bottom-most teams in the league can churn up amazing performances, on their day. After all, we were talking about two teams tonight, whose opening pairs have been the best in IPL. KL Rahul-Mayank and Warner-Bairstow have competed for the laurels of the best opening position, this IPL and this promised to be a mouth-watering clash between the two.

SRH won the toss and chose to bat first. I would admit that the decision surprised me because after the exit of Bhuvi from the league the SRH bowling looks pretty bleak and my thinking was Warner would back his batsmen to chase down any target in the 2nd innings. However, Warner thought differently and KXIP did not look at discomfort to bowl first.

KXIP made a positive change to the line-up by including Mujeeb. I have been vouching for this young spinner all through my articles and finally, KL-Kumble included him in the playing 11. KXIP had been opening their bowling with Shami and Cottrell. The expectation was that Mujeeb would be used as a powerplay bowler along with Cottrell, and Shami would be made responsible for the end overs.

However, Warner and Bairstow threw all the set plans of KL Rahul over the wall. I have been mentioning in my last articles that Bairstow is getting very beautiful 30s and for SRH to succeed, he needs to convert his sprint like inning into a marathon. Today much to the misfortune of KXIP, Bairstow did exactly that. Unlike the last couple of matches, Bairstow did not try to over-accelerate in the powerplay. After hitting a boundary, he would routinely get off strike and keep the scoreboard ticking.

Sunrisers Hyderabad player Jonny Bairstow

Warner, after a long time, came out from his conservative shell to his attacking best form inside the powerplay. In fact, Warner’s attacking game allowed Bairstow to pace his inning for the long haul. Both of them were also aided by some absolute freebies by Sheldon Cottrell snd Shami in the powerplay overs.

Having set a solid base in the powerplay, Bairstow started timing the balls sweetly. The hard-elbow drives were there on exhibition and this is perhaps one of the best innings of Bairstow after the one he played against India in ICC CWC 2019. Warner realized his role in the partnership and took a backseat in terms of run-scoring. He started turning the strike over to Bairstow who decimated the KXIP attack. None of the bowlers of KXIP be it Bishnoi or, Maxwell or Cottrell or Shami looked like picking up Bairstow’s wicket. The ghosts from the last match, where the CSK openers took the CSK bowlers to the cleaners, started ringing in their minds.

The English-Australian duo raced to 160 for no loss at the end of 16 overs.  SRH was looking good for 220 when the strategic timeout was taken. It is strange how an IPL match can turn on its head after a brief break in play. Bishnoi, after having been smacked for 18 in his first over, showed the guts to pitch his googly up to an in-form Warner. Warner top-edged his slog sweep and was caught at long-on for a brisk 52 off 40 deliveries. Bishnoi foxed Bairstow with another googly, which turned sharply from good length to trap the batsman in front of his wickets, just 3 runs short of his century. In the half a dozen matches, that Bishnoi has played for KXIP he has shown great character and maturity beyond his age. Tonight, he showed that he had the mettle in him to come back and castle the likes of Warner & Bairstow after a disastrous first over.

After the two set batsmen got dismissed in the same over, wickets started falling in a canter. Young Arshdeep Singh looked excellent with his combination of cutters and full pace deliveries and accounted for Manish Pandey and Priyam Garg. However, I won’t read too much into Arshdeep’s exploits in this match as he got his wickets primarily because of the new batsman’s inability to adjust to the pace of the pitch. Bishnoi accounted for another wicket of Samad, to restrict SRH to a total of 201 in 20 overs- surely 20 runs short of where they expected to be after 16 overs. Ironically, the death bowling that has pained KXIP so much all through the season came to their rescue today courtesy of 2 young Indians- Bishnoi and Arshdeep.

KXIP began the chase on the wrong foot. The in-form Mayank Agarwal was dismissed in a terrible mixup with his captain. Prabhsimrah Singh, who is known for his hard-hitting abilities in domestic cricket, came in and started timing the ball well. Just when it looked like the decision to promote Singh would pay off, in another stroke of bad luck for Punjab he crunched a cut shot right into the hands of Priyam Garg at point.

KL Rahul captain of Kings XI Punjab and Nicholas Pooran

I am afraid whether KL Rahul is finding the leadership role to be a crown of thorns. He was expected to keep wickets, score runs, and cement his place as the successor of Dhoni in limited-overs cricket, this IPL. Midway into the tournament, he has left his keeping gloves and is becoming more conservative with his batting in every passing match. He has to find a way out of this pit and the player that Rahul is, I am sure he will definitely find a way to motivate both himself and his team, going forward.

KL Rahul top-edged an innocuous arm ball from Abhishek Sharma to Williamson at deep square leg and that marked the beginning of the procession for KXIP. However, let’s take nothing away from the standout inning of Nicholas Pooran. The most intriguing part about his inning was that, unlike the majority of his West Indian mates, he was not trying to slog the ball out of the ground with brute force. This is the cleanest form of hitting; I have seen this IPL and Pooran looked sublime with the willow in his hand.

He was hitting Abdul Samad for 100-105 meter sixes with sheer ease, without losing his shape or overhitting the ball. The mere elegance with which he batted today demonstrated the potential that he possessed. Unfortunately, he was the lone warrior for KXIP today, as his inning of 77 off 37 balls in a losing cause, reminded us of Butler’s inning a couple of nights ago.

Rashid Khan of Sunrisers Hyderabad celebrates the wicket

Rashid was excellent with the ball tonight as well. He picked up Mandeep with a googly and then picked up Pooran with an intelligent flipper. With every passing match, the Afghan wrist spinner is improving his line & length and he is showing signs that he can run through the opposition batting in the upcoming matches. T Natarajan continued to impress with his pinpoint yorkers and change-up deliveries. In the absence of Bhuvi, he may emerge as the leader of the attack for SRH going forward.  

Finally, KXIP fell short by a massive margin of 69 runs and continued sliding down. Perhaps this is the last time we have seen Maxwell in KXIP colors this season and I am pretty sure that Chris Gayle will replace the Australian allrounder in the next match. Multiple things are going wrong for KXIP as well simultaneously. If a 19-year-old Ravi Bishnoi is the lynchpin of the KXIP bowling attack, then Kumble indeed has a cause for concern with the team. As for SRH, the weak death bowling was not exposed tonight. Against better oppositions, the 5th bowler concern and the lack of death over specialists can hurt SRH big time.