As is the case with every edition of the Indian Premier League, the fixtures arrive densely and there is little time to waste. With sixty matches to be played by June 1st, the rollicking nature of the world’s most expensive cricket tournament leaves sides little room for experimentation, points being precious throughout. The Kings XI are already off to the perfect start, winning two from two on the back of a pair of scintillating chases. Hyderabad, however, sagged under the weight of expectation, losing their first match to the Rajasthan Royals. It must be said that the Sunrisers held their own in that encounter, which could easily have concluded in their favour had they put a few more runs on the board. The general opinion is that the Kings XI bought smartest at the auction, and they now find themselves second favourites to take the title.
Kings XI 15/20
Every IPL fan’s favourite underdog from last season, the Sunrisers managed to turn frowns upside down in the city of Hyderabad. The previous franchise lost seventeen of the twenty IPL matches played at the home ground. Last year, the Sunrisers lost only one. However, the structure of IPL 2014 means the side will only play four matches at the fortress, the rest scheduled for the UAE and away matches in India. Expectations will still be high for the franchise following an astute auction, though it remains to be seen how the side deals with the psychological aspect of no longer being the underdog. The have players that relish the role, some of whom guided the team to the playoffs in their tournament debut.
Last year, a formidable bowling attack masked large inadequacies in the Sunrisers’ batting order. Although, the acquisitions of both David Warner ($916 000) and Aaron Finch ($666 000) produce a top three consisting of the two Australians with Shikhar Dhawan, which should put pay to the Sunrisers’ average of 144 while batting first. Indeed, Dhawan twirled his glorious moustache all the way into Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year. But cricket isn’t a game that follows a logical pattern, Hyderabad limping to 133 setting a target for the Royals. Both Dhawan and Warner reached scores in excess of thirty, but their strike-rates were low and neither kicked on. It left far too much work to be done for the men coming in and if not for some average death bowling on the part of the Royals, Hyderabad would’ve struggled to make as many as they did. The bowling attack stepped up, Steyn and Mishra particularly impressive, but the Royals squeaked through with three balls to spare. No doubt there is much room for improvement, Naman Ojha and Irfan Pathan may be useful additions to a side that lacks hardened Indian IPL experience.
Kings XI Punjab
The Kings XI have underachieved season upon season in the IPL and this year’s forced reshuffle has definitely been of benefit to the franchise. They retained only David Miller and youngster Mahan Vohra, using their Right-To-Match cards to keep Mandeep Singh and Parvinder Awana in the side. They splurged on Australians, picking up both Mitchell Johnson and Glenn Maxwell for more than a million US dollars apiece, and George Bailey for $541 000. Virender Sehwag was also drafted into the side for a relative bargain, his last chance to thrill the fans before the light fades on an explosive career. However, Cheteshwar Pujara has the potential to be the most shrewd of all the Kings XI purchases, adding balance and stability to the top order while the big-hitters have the right to express themselves.
The term ‘express themselves’ has taken on a new meaning so far in the Kings XI camp. In their opening match against Chennai, the bowlers conceded heavily. Mitchell Johnson went at almost twelve to the over as the Super Kings raced to 205 from their twenty, but the Punjab side were not to be outdone. A quick start from Sehwag and Pujara morphed into a ransacking, the Kings XI passing their target in the nineteenth over, Maxwell with 95 from 43 balls and Miller not out on 54 from 37. When Punjab conceded 191 against the Royals, Johnson and Patel bowling better but the rest of the attack costly, the batsmen chased it down with eight balls to spare. This time, Pujara provided the platform with 40 not out from 38 balls at the top of the innings, and again it was Maxwell and Miller to explode, the Australian with 89 from 45 balls and the South African with 51 not out from only 19. Miller is fourth on the list of run-scorers with his two half centuries and is yet to be dismissed, while Million Dollar Maxwell has justified his price tag, plundering 184 in two innings at an average of 92.00.
The pitches in the UAE have had a lot of wear in the past few months, playing low and slow with the prospect of turn. It was Sharjah that hosted the Royals vs Kings XI match, almost 400 runs scored. Expect another high scoring encounter with both batting attacks loaded with firepower. No rain is expected.
VERDICT: Sunrisers Hyderabad 11/10
The exploits of Maxwell and Miller have, so far, carried the Kings XI to victory despite their bowling attack leaking runs. The Sunrisers have a formidable batting line-up and are familiar with the likes of Mitchell Johnson, Warner and Finch facing him in the nets for Australia. I expect the Sunrisers to cash in and for Dale Steyn in particular to play a part in preventing the Kings XI big-hitters getting carried away with the chase.