Punjab Kings had a narrow escape in their previous match against the Chennai Super Kings, prevailing by 11 runs while defending 187. Had Ambati Rayudu, who had taken the battle to the bowlers, played another over, the outcome of the match may well have been different.
But such arguments fall into the category of ifs and buts. To Punjab’s credit, they pulled things back marvellously in the death overs to get a couple of important points and stymie concerns about the bowling which had fired in fits and starts in the tournament.
Kagiso Rabada, who had been intermittently good, roared back into form in this match, and also dismissed the dangerous Rayudu.
But the game-changer was Arshdeep Singh who hit impeccable lines and lengths in the 19th over, giving Ravindra Jadeja and MS Dhoni no leeway to free their arms, ending CSK’s prospects of winning.
Against the Lucknow Super Giants tonight, Punjab need both Rabada and Arshdeep to bowl with the same control, acumen and penetration. For Arshdeep, apart from helping his team, there is also the opportunity to further impress the national selectors who are busy shortlisting players for India’s T20 World Cup squad.
But with leg-spinner Rahul Chahar suffering a dip in form in the past few games, Punjab are bereft of another wicket-taking bowler. So a lot will depend on how well Rabada and Arshdeep bowl tonight.
LSG have an impressive top-order, led by skipper KL Rahul who is in dazzling touch, having smashed a century in the previous match against Mumbai Indians, his second of the season.
Rahul apart, LSG’s batting includes Quinton de Kock, Manish Pandey, Deepak Hooda and Ayush Badoni. In the bowling department, Avesh Khan missed the previous match because of a niggle, but he is among the leading wicket-takers in the tournament. Sri Lanka’s Dushmantha Chameera has been a fine acquisition, while young left-arm speedster Mohsin Khan has shown both skill and temperament.
The team have three quality all-rounders in Marcus Stoinis, Krunal Pandya and Jason Holder. All three have rich experience at the international level as well as in the IPL.
While LSG are ahead in all-round depth, Rahul knows success cannot be taken for granted against his former team. Punjab’s progress in the tournament has been wobbly, but they have quite a few players capable of winning a match on their own — Rabada, Arshdeep and Chahar in bowling, Shikhar Dhawan, Mayank Agarwal, Liam Livingstone, Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Jonny Bairstow in batting.
Dhawan gives the batting an aggressive dimension as well as stability. He has the experience and aptitude to switch gears when needed as well as the capacity to bat out 20 overs which allows stroke-players batting around him to flourish.
However, this potential has not been fully exploited. M Shahrukh Khan and Odean Smith, renowned for sledgehammer strokes, have yet to make big contributions.
But the biggest disappointment has been skipper Mayank Agarwal who hasn’t been able to convert starts into big scores. Bairstow also hasn’t made much of an impact.
Thankfully for Punjab, their two other overseas batsmen, Livingstone and Rajapaksa, have lived up to expectations, keeping the team in the hunt for a place in the playoffs.
Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator
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