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Despite the presence of the menacing Mitchell Johnson and the experienced L Balaji in their ranks, the one Kings XI Punjab medium-pacer who has been very impressive so far this season is Sandeep Sharma. The 20-year-old, who was part of the Indian team that won the ICC Under-19 World Cup in 2012, warmed the benches in his team’s first two matches. But when given an opportunity, he grabbed it with both hands. He has swung the ball mostly in – sometimes very late in the trajectory – and has picked up nine wickets in four matches to become KXIP’s best bowler. In the match against Royal Challengers Bangalore, he picked up two big wickets – Chris Gayle and Virat Kohli. In the match against the Mumbai Indians, he struck twice in his first two overs, dismissing Ben Dunk and Ambati Rayudu.
In his first four outings in the Pepsi IPL – two matches for RCB in 2013 and his first two matches for RR in the 2014 season – Karun Nair had managed a total of 18 runs from 29 balls. In a short and competitive tournament like the IPL, many teams would be compelled to bench a player after two poor scores. Not the Rajasthan Royals though, who backed the 22-year-old and gave him a third chance to prove himself. The technically correct Nair, who is known for his temperament too, opened the innings in the match against the Delhi Daredevils and anchored his team’s chase of 153. Despite losing his partners at the other end, Nair – who scored hundreds in three consecutive matches in his debut Ranji Trophy season – remained unflustered and saw his team past the finish line. After scoring at just over a run-a-ball during the first 30 deliveries he faced, he stepped on the accelerator when the required rate was at its highest. After playing second fiddle to Ajinkya Rahane and Sanju Samson, Nair dominated his partnerships with Rajat Bhatia and Sanju Samson. He was fluent through the off-side – scoring the bulk of his runs through cover and point – and worked the ball through the leg-side to pick up ones and twos.
Wriddhiman Saha’s glovework is so highly rated in Indian cricket circles that his batting prowess is generally overshadowed by it. In Kings XI Punjab’s match against the Mumbai Indians, the 29-year-old once again illustrated how good he was with the bat. In a batting line-up that boasts dangerous players like Virender Sehwag, Glenn Maxwell, David Warner and George Bailey, Saha held his own and guided his team to a competitive score. Batting at No.3, which is usually reserved for the best batsman in the team, Saha took his time to get going. He walked out to bat in the third over and stayed in the shadow of the stroke-makers well into the second-half of the innings – facing only 29 balls until the end of the 13th over. He then cut loose, scoring 38 runs off 18 balls (which included 15 runs from a Kieron Pollard over) to help his team finish with a flourish.
Kedar Jadhav | 28* v RR
Just what can the confidence of scoring runs do to a batsman? Ask Delhi Daredevils’ Kedar Jadhav. The Maharashtra batsman was the top run-getter in the Ranji Trophy in the season that just went by – scoring 1223 runs, which included six centuries. The 29-year-old carried that confidence into Pepsi IPL 2014 and impressed as soon as he got his opportunity. In the match against the Rajasthan Royals, he walked out to bat when Dinesh Karthik was dismissed in the 16th over. DD were placed at 95 for four at that point and were looking at a total of around 140. Jadhav, who scored at a strike-rate of 80.30 in the Ranji Trophy last season, wasted little time at the crease. Of the 14 deliveries he faced, two were dot balls, eight produced singles, two produced boundaries and two others sailed over the ropes. His 14-ball cameo in the company of JP Duminy meant DD realised 49 runs of the final four overs of the innings and finished at a competitive 152.
The Kolkata Knight Riders, given to chase 153 in the match against the Rajasthan Royals, were in the driver’s seat heading into the dying overs of the contest. KKR needed 16 from the last two overs with two well-set batsmen at the crease. James Faulkner, who turned 24 on that day, was given the ball in the 19th over. And the Australian turned the match on its head with three deadly strikes. Off the first ball of the over, he picked up the wicket of Suryakumar Yadav with a low full-toss. Off the fourth ball of the over, he castled Robin Uthappa – who walked across to attempt to work the ball away square on the leg-side. The following delivery, he deceived R Vinay Kumar with a slower one and had his stumps rattled. RR, who were staring at their third defeat before the start of the 19th over, were suddenly back in the game. They held their nerves, even in the Super Over that was contested after both teams finished on the same score, and converted that opening into a victory.
When Chris Gayle is going great guns and you succeed in adding him to your wickets tally, you must be a happy bowler. Such was the case with Sunrisers Hyderabad’s leg-spinner Karn Sharma, who was the pick of the bowlers with three wickets in his four overs against the Royal Challengers Bangalore on Sunday night.
Sharma later claimed Rilee Rossouw and Yuvraj Singh, and it seemed as if it was going to be Sunrisers all the way with RCB reeling at 95 for five – still needing 61 runs off five and a half overs. AB de Villiers though had other plans and decimated the SRH bowling attack, chasing down the target with class and panache. For Sharma, it was a satisfying performance on a personal front, but from a team perspective, the loss hurt. “I am happy with my performance but a bit disappointed that we couldn’t win the game,” Sharma told IPLT20.com after the match. “We had done well throughout the game but just lost our way at the end,” he added.
When asked if he would rate his bowling performance of 3/17 the best this season so far, Sharma replied, “This is my best bowling performance this year. I got three big wickets for the side. My aim was to put them under pressure and not give too many easy runs.”
Getting Chris Gayle’s wicket is no mean feat when the hard-hitting left-hander is in the mood to dispatch every ball to the boundary. Sharma ultimately took his wicket and said that there was a lot of homework done before bowling to Gayle. “I had seen a lot of videos before the game about the areas that Gayle targets. My aim was to bowl to him on his pads and not give him any room to hit me freely. There is always a bit of pressure when you are bowling to someone like a Chris Gayle. But having said that, T20 is a format were anyone can get hit and pick wickets. I just backed myself and I am glad it came good.”
The Sunrisers went in with three quality pacers as Amit Mishra made way for Ishant Sharma. Karn Sharma being the lone spinner was ready for the responsibility. He said, “I was the only spinner in the side and I tried my best not to make any mistakes on the field. I didn’t want to put pressure on myself and just wanted to stick to my strengths and the basics.”
Bhuvaneshwar Kumar got two wickets in his very first over, dismissing Parthiv Patel and Virat Kohli early in the innings. It was advantage Sunrisers as Sharma later went on to pick three more wickets and turning the match in his side’s favour only to be outdone by AB de Villiers. The RCB batsman did survive a chance as he was dropped at point by Karn Sharma, which according to him was the turning point of the game. “If I had held on to that catch, maybe the game could have swung in our favour. But it is part and parcel of the game; at times you hold on to those and sometimes they don’t stick to your hands.”
With just two wins of six games, Sunrisers have a lot of work to do. Sharma was optimistic of a good show from the team in the games to come. “Our hopes are still alive in the tournament. Our goal will be to play the remainder of the matches well, not to make the mistakes we did in this game and hopefully turn the results in our favour.”