Category: _author:Karthik Lakshmanan

IPL 2019 | Captain Smith Brushes Aside Rustine…

There was intent in everything Rajasthan Royals did on Saturday (April 20).

It began with changing their captain from Ajinkya Rahane to Steve Smith a couple of hours before their must-win match against Mumbai Indians. Irrespective of whether the decision was right or wrong – especially considering Smith will not be available for the entire tournament – there was no questioning the intent. Royals were going nowhere under Rahane, with just two wins from eight matches.

Smith, on the other hand, had 16 wins from 24 matches as IPL captain. Even if Smith could inspire his side for a few games before flying to Australia, he would have done his job.

Smith did just that, leading from the front with the bat, staying unbeaten on 59 off 48 to guide Royals in a tricky chase of 162 on a turning track.

Smith came into the game with a total of 186 runs from seven matches, with a highest of an unbeaten 73 and a strike rate of 108. There was ‘rusty’ written all over his batting; he struggled for any sort of flow. It didn’t help that he batted at No. 4 in a couple of matches, and was even left out of the side for the last game against Kings XI Punjab. The injured elbow was hurting him – Smith, who already isn’t known as a power-hitter, couldn’t find his timing. Why, he couldn’t even throw over-arm, thus forcing him to field inside the ring.

The fielding position didn’t change against Mumbai, but the timing for sure did.

Smith walked in to bat, ironically replacing Rahane in the middle, with Royals already in good flow at 39 in 3.4 overs. Sanju Samson was giving them a quick start at the other end, and Smith had to ensure they kept the momentum. It was crucial given they had no Jos Buttler.

It took only four balls to see Smith’s intent. Smith got going slashing Lasith Malinga for two fours in the sixth over, piercing the gap between backward point and third man to perfection. It took Royals to 60 for 1 at the end of Power Play – a much needed quick start given batting would get tougher as the game went on.

It didn’t take too long to see why Royals had no option but to get a quick start in the Power Play. Rahul Chahar got Samson and Ben Stokes in the eighth over, leaving Royals 77 for 3.

Smith had already raced to 25 off 15 at that point, but had to re-assess the situation. With Stokes gone, Smith was the only experienced batsman left. The names to follow were 17-year-old Riyan Parag, Stuart Binny playing just his second match, followed by bowling all-rounders Jofra Archer and Shreyas Gopal.

Smith rose to the situation, along with young Parag. The duo scored only one boundary between overs 9.1 and 13.3; Smith was slowing down, while Parag scored 17 off his first 16 balls.

The nature of the track and the quality of death bowlers they possessed meant Mumbai would have felt they were in the game, but Parag took over the role of aggressor while Smith looked to bat through. The gear-shift happened when Parag hit Hardik Pandya for a couple of boundaries in the 14th over, following it up with a six off Chahar and a four off Malinga in the next two overs.

Parag raced to 41 off 27, and Royals needed just 25 off 24. Teams have lost from such positions this season, and Royals too faced some nervy moments when Parag was run out and Ashton Turner fell for a first-ball duck.

However, they had captain Smith to guide them home.

IPL 2019 | Red Hot Pandya Helicopters into Jaw…

The signs were clear when Hardik Pandya posted a video on social media of him playing the helicopter shot. If anyone thought it was just a case of Pandya having some fun towards the end of a session, they were mistaken.

For Pandya has taken the shot into matches, and has ‘helicoptered’ his way to becoming one of the most feared hitters in the death. Now, even MS Dhoni likes Pandya’s deep-in-the-crease helicopters.

Pandya’s strike-rate of 194.64 this season is only second to another six-machine, Andre Russell for anyone who has scored 100 runs in the competition. You can read more about Pandya’s numbers here.

More than the numbers, everything about Pandya’s batting oozes one characteristic: confidence. He smashes a six and flaunts his biceps. He hits an important boundary and roars. He misses a ball, and castigates himself.

In cricket, it’s usually the bowler who portrays all sorts of emotions, especially after success. Not often do we see batsmen celebrating boundaries like bowlers celebrate wickets. Unless of course, you’re S Sreesanth and the bowler is Andre Nel.

The most obvious, and probable, reason for that is that the batsmen can afford only one mistake. Imagine celebrating on the bowler’s face, and then being bowled next ball. Or, just google Venkatesh Prasad vs Aamir Sohail.

Pandya, though, seems to be in such a zone that he can afford to celebrate without the fear of being dismissed next ball. Pandya’s gestures are more like egging himself on, than to do with embarrassing or instigating the bowler.

The confidence in Pandya’s game is telling from his off-field remarks too.

“I want to help India win the World Cup,” he declared earlier.

“I don’t think I’ve ever hit the ball better. I am using my brain well, reading the wicket well in this season,” he said on Thursday (April 19) after yet another game-changing knock against Delhi Capitals.

The confidence has resulted in consistency, in different forms. In IPL 2018, Pandya scored only 260 runs from 13 matches, at a strike-rate of 133.33. In 2017, he had only 250 runs from 16 matches, at a strike-rate of 156.25.

This season, Pandya has already made 218 runs from nine matches, striking at close to 195. He has been unbeaten in four of those games.

There’s also consistency in hitting, irrespective of the type of bowler. Pandya has often had success against spin on his day – three sixes in a row against Adam Zampa (against Australia in Chennai), Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan (in Champions Trophy 2017), and his heroics against Pawan Negi in IPL 2015 and this season show that he can tear them apart.

Yet, he has been kept relatively quiet by spinners in the past seasons too. This year, Pandya has managed consistency against both pace and spin.

There were worries about Pandya’s form coming into the IPL, considering he had little game time, a back injury, and other off-field issues to deal with. Since the start of 2018, Pandya had played only 13 ODIs, batting only in eight of those for a total of 129 runs.

In a space of nine games, though, he has allayed all fears going into the World Cup. Given India have struggled with strong finishes in recent times, and the fact that they didn’t pick Rishabh Pant, Pandya’s form will be a big boost.

IPL 2019 | Malinga’s Death Bowling Prowess Mak…

As unfortunate as it is, Alzarri Joseph’s injury has made Mumbai Indians’ selection headaches easier. That was on display against Royal Challengers Bangalore on Monday (April 15), with his replacement Lasith Malinga providing what his side had missed in his absence – death bowling.

Malinga had left Mumbai mid-way to participate in Sri Lanka’s domestic competition. His absence was not felt initially, as Alzarri Joseph ran through Sunrisers Hyderabad with a record 6-12 on debut. It was a terrific spell, but it was evident over the next two matches that Mumbai still needed Malinga when he returned.

The first signs of danger came against Kings XI Punjab in Mumbai, when they conceded 66 runs in the last five overs. Joseph bowled just two overs, conceding 22 runs.

Captain Kieron Pollard wouldn’t trust him for the death overs, instead handing it to Hardik Pandya who ended up conceding 57 runs in his four overs.

The death overs leakage nearly cost them the game, but Pollard bailed them out with a stunning innings. The result made Mumbai give Joseph an extended, but this time it proved too costly as Rajasthan Royals made them pay.

Chasing 188, Rajasthan, led by Jos Buttler’s brilliance, smashed 85 runs in the last 8.3 overs to run away with the game. Joseph conceded 53 runs from three overs, including 28 in a single over to Buttler.

Bumrah was economical, but teams were happy to play him out and target the Pandyas and Benrendorffs.

Mumbai learned their lesson soon, and brought back Malinga to stop the end-overs rut. Before leaving for Sri Lanka, he had picked up 3 for 34 against Chennai Super Kings, and just continued from where he left as he picked up 4 for 31 against RCB – a spell that made the ultimate difference in the end.

Mumbai conceded just 35 runs in the last four overs thanks to the Malinga-Bumrah partnership, despite AB de Villiers getting into the groove. The South African had started steadily, scoring only 13 runs from his first 17 balls, but was getting into fifth gear at the perfect time, crossing his half-century off 41 balls.

Moeen Ali was striking even better, reaching 50 off 31 balls. Yet, Malinga ensured Bangalore wouldn’t run away with the game and kept them to 171 with his last two overs conceding just 17. This, despite de Villiers taking him for two sixes. He got Moeen and Marcus Stoinis in the 18th over, and followed it up with two more wickets in the last as RCB lost momentum.

What also cost RCB big was a small but major moment in the game in the second ball of the last over. De Villiers, who had tonked Malinga for a six the previous ball, had hit the ball to long on and called for two. Akshdeep Nath should have run blindly even if it meant sacrificing his wicket, but he stood still, resulting in de Villiers being run out by a brilliant throw from the deep.

De Villiers is perhaps the one batsman who you would trust to target Malinga. The duel between them reads like this: 61 balls, 124 runs, 0 dismissals. De Villiers had already hit him for three sixes in as many overs in this game, and would have fancied his chances for more. Yet, lack of game awareness from Akshdeep meant de Villiers was denied a chance of facing Malinga for four more balls.

In a tense chase on a pitch that became increasingly difficult to bat on, the minor moments hurt Bangalore as much as Malinga did.

An Untested No. 4, but India Have Plan B & C i…

Who will be the No. 4?

Is Dinesh Karthik the right choice?

Are India light on the pace department?

These are the top three questions – or areas of concerns, if you will – around the Indian squad for the World Cup 2019.

The No. 4, first. If MSK Prasad’s press conference is anything to go by, India will go into the World Cup with the No. 4 dilemma unsolved. In short, India will go into the World Cup with a No. 4 batsman who, wait for it, hasn’t batted at No. 4 in ODIs yet. Vijay Shankar is the man likely to start in that position, and he will likely have two warm-up matches before India’s first game to get into the groove.

While it might sound risky, the decision might not be a bad one, for Vijay has shown adaptability to different situations in the limited chances he has got so far. While he has not batted at No. 4 yet, he has shown aspects of his batting that might suit the position.

The importance of a solid No. 4 is most when the team is in early trouble, or when they need a batsman to rotate in the middle overs. Two knocks of Vijay should have convinced the selectors of such qualities; the way he rescued the team from 18 for 4 against New Zealand in Wellington, and the positive manner in which he approached the situation walking in at 75 for 3 against Australia in Nagpur.

Vijay seemed fluent and solid in both the occasions, but was run out in unfortunate circumstances. The lack of a big knock is a concern, but the two matches showed that Vijay has the ability. India will be hoping it converts to performances at the World Cup. He’ll have a trial by fire, for India’s first four opponents are South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan.

Incidentally, the man Vijay replaced was the player who scored that ‘big’ knock in the Wellington game. Ambati Rayudu scored 90, but his form has dipped rather drastically since. Vijay’s ability to chip in with medium pace has worked in his favour.

In some ways, the untested nature of Vijay at No. 4 might have contributed to India going with Dinesh Karthik over Rishabh Pant. Karthik was tested at the position for the longest time after the Champions Trophy 2017. He averaged more than 50 there, but his strike-rate in the 70s and the lack of big knocks worked against him too.

Pant could have been the X-factor and the only left-handed middle order option, but India would have had too many untested middle order options in Vijay and Pant in such a scenario. Prasad made it clear that the second wicketkeeper was only a back-up to Dhoni, but Karthik could also be in contention for a middle order spot if his state-mate doesn’t get going immediately.

While it’s unlikely, India also have a couple more options for No. 4 – KL Rahul and Virat Kohli. However, that’s likely to be used only as Plan B. The chief selector too said Rahul will be considered only as the third opener initially.

Rahul has scored only 63 runs from seven matches outside the opening position, with a highest of 26. That came from No. 3 in the only ODI he played in India’s latest ODI series, against Australia at home. In the ongoing IPL, Rahul has shown ability to bat long and calm, which could boost India’s confidence in him as a middle order option for the World Cup.

That could also lead to Plan C, with Rahul at 3 and Kohli at 4. Ravi Shastri had spoken about the possibility earlier, suggesting the top three – Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli – could be split if India encounter conditions or situations that favour pace. The three best batsmen falling early cost them the Champions Trophy final in England, and that could be avoided with such a strategy.

Kohli is India’s best No. 3, but he is no stranger to No. 4 too. In 38 innings at No. 4, he has 1751 runs at an average of 56.48 with seven 100s and eight 50s. Kohli at four could solve many problems for India on paper. However, the last time Kohli batted at No. 4 before this game was in October 2015.

Beyond the middle order conundrum, India’s only issue is their thin pace unit. Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are the only frontline pacers. However, workload issues should not be an issue as India will have four other pacers accompanying them as net bowlers. They can also be roped in as replacements should the need arise.

The presence of Hardik Pandya and Vijay mean India are unlikely to go with all three pacers unless they get a green track, given the thin pace resources. Bumrah is a guarantee, which means India will have to decide on Shami vs Bhuvneshwar. The latter’s form has been a bit of a worry in recent times, but Shami and Bumrah along with Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav will make India’s batting thin. Will that work in Ravindra Jadeja’s favour?

While the focus is on the batting combinations, the bowling permutations could prove just as crucial too. The good thing, though, is that India have plenty of options for every situation.

IPL 2019 | Middle-Order Woes Continue to Haunt…

In essence, the Sunrisers Hyderabad vs Delhi Capitals game on Sunday (April 14) was a clash of two weak, misfiring middle orders. In the end, it was Delhi who did marginally better than Hyderabad, emerging victorious.

A chase of 156 on a slightly slow but by no means difficult pitch should have been a straightforward one, especially after a 72-run opening stand. Yet, for the second time in as many matches at home, Hyderabad bungled a modest chase thanks to their wobbly middle order. In their previous home match, Hyderabad had been skittled out for just 96 in chase of 137. This time, they were bowled out for just 116, losing ten wickets for just 44 runs.

Openers David Warner (51) and Jonny Bairstow had yet another half-century stand, but no other batsman even got to double digits.

In some ways, the very reason for Hyderabad’s middle order woes is their openers’ success. Warner and Bairstow have added three century and two half-century partnerships, leaving little time for the remaining batsmen.

Warner has scored 400 runs this season, while Bairstow has made 304. Apart from the duo, only Vijay Shankar has faced more than 100 balls (102), managing 132 runs. The next in the list is Manish Pandey, who has faced only 58 balls, scoring only 54 runs. Mohammad Nabi, Yusuf Pathan and Deepak Hooda have faced fewer balls, not doing much of note in the little chances.

It didn’t help that Kane Williamson was injured for the most part. In this game, though, even Williamson’s presence didn’t help Hyderabad.

The weakness in the middle order has made Warner take a fairly cautious approach. The runs have come consistently, but the pace has reduced in recent games as Warner has tried to be the anchor and aggressor. It was on display in the previous match against Kings XI Punjab, where he scored just 70 despite facing 62 balls. Against Delhi, Warner took 47 balls for his 51.

For most part of the chase, Warner was going at just around a run a ball. His first 22 balls yielded just 16 runs. Bairstow made up for Warner’s slow start, making 41 off 31 as Hyderabad posted 73 for 1 in the first ten. However, the runs dried up after his exit.

With Warner not at full flow, Hyderabad just didn’t have the muscle to hit in the middle overs against Keemo Paul’s slower ones. There were no boundaries scored between 8.4 and the start of the 13th over. The 13th over yielded two fours, but there was not a single boundary after that.

Delhi won the match but they were not too better than their opposition as far as their middle order batting is concerned. They used good batting conditions to race ahead in the initial stages, but struggled for power in the latter half.

Colin Munro, the No. 3, gave them a solid start despite the openers’ failures. His 24-ball 40 ensured Delhi got 87 for 3 in the first ten overs. However, they managed just 53 runs in the last eight.

For the first 13 overs, Delhi scored at least one boundary per over in every over except the second. However, they scored no boundaries from 12.4 to 18.3, losing their way towards the end.

Delhi’s shaky middle order has already cost them a match against Kings XI Punjab, and nearly messed up their game against Kolkata Knight Riders at home before Kagiso Rabada bailed them out with a stunning Super Over.

Shikhar Dhawan and Prithvi Shaw have had one good knock each, but consistency has evaded them. Rishabh Pant has faded away after a stellar start against Mumbai Indians, where he smashed 78* off 27. There’s little batting after Pant, making Delhi a top heavy line up. Captain Shreyas Iyer has held the line up together, scoring 266 runs from eight matches with three 40s and one half-century. His strike-rate has been just 120.36, but Iyer has largely been the glue keeping the batting together, knowing there’s not much batting to follow.

The lack of muscle didn’t cost Delhi in this game, but could be a factor as the tournament progresses. Hyderabad are finding that out the hard way, and will have to find solutions if they are to progress.

IPL 2019 | Tahir Runs Through KKR at Batter-fr…

‘Odinen, Odinen’

“I ran and ran,” said Imran Tahir, in Tamil, wishing Chennai Super Kings fans a happy Tamil new year on Sunday (April 14).

It was a reference to a popular Tamil movie dialogue, and of course, Tahir’s famous sprints after every wicket. He made it a memorable festival for his side against Kolkata Knight Riders on Sunday, ‘running’ across Eden Gardens four times.

Tahir produced a career best IPL spell of 4 for 27, helping CSK restrict KKR to 161/8 in 20 overs, which they chased down by five wickets.

What made his spell remarkable was that the pitch was a belter. Even more remarkable were the situations he bowled in, and the wickets he got: Nitish Rana and Robin Uthappa in his second over, Chris Lynn and Andre Russell in his next.

Tahir came into the attack in the ninth over with KKR having a solid platform at 67 for 1. Left-handed Rana was promoted to No. 3 to counter CSK’s left-arm spinners and leg-spinner, given they didn’t have Harbhajan Singh’s off-spin.

Tahir broke through the platform in no time, getting Rana and Uthappa in a space of three balls. The plan to Rana was clever – CSK’s spinners kept bowling outside off, denying him his favourite shot over deep mid-wicket. When Tahir bowled one in his zone, Rana could only mistime to long on. Uthappa then fell for a first-ball duck, quite needlessly lofting him to long off.

Those were two important wickets but KKR were in no mood to stop attacking, for Lynn was in that sort of a mood. Lynn has historically been poor against spin, but the flatness of the pitch made it a different story this time. It was evident when he smashed Ravindra Jadeja for three consecutive sixes in the 14th over.

Lynn was getting into full flow, and MS Dhoni immediately turned to Tahir to end the carnage. The captain and spinner had a long chat, perhaps plotting the perfect trap. Tahir’s first ball to Lynn was a wide outside off, possibly making the batsman think that would be the line of attack. Or defence.

The next ball, though, was flat and straight. Lynn adjusted and swept, but could only find deep square-leg for 82 off 51. One dangerman was gone, another bigger one entered. Russell began with a four and a big six in three balls. Tahir had bowled them all straight, and Russell was not missing out.

The South African, though, was smart and brave enough to make a subtle change next ball. He tossed it up just like he had done previous ball, but had dragged the line a bit wider. Russell couldn’t resist having a go, but managed to only hit it flat to long-on where substitute Dhruv Shorey took a superb catch diving forward.

It was Tahir’s fourth wicket in the match, and the fourth time he has got Russell overall. His tremendous success against the big hitter continued, and kick-started the fastest and longest sprint of the evening.

IPL 2019 | Kohli Back to What he Does Best – C…

Virat Kohli and run chases. The love affair reunited partially on Saturday (April 13) as the Royal Challengers Bangalore captain helped his side win their first match of the tournament with a 53-ball 67, beating Kings XI Punjab comfortably by eight wickets in Mohali.

There have been plenty of reasons for RCB’s poor show this season, each one analysed thread bare. Almost every factor – middle order batting, death bowling – have been in RCB’s control. One factor, though, has been beyond their control. The toss.

Coming into the game, Kohli had lost four of the six tosses, which meant he couldn’t do what he loves to: chase. RCB got to chase only in two matches – they lost a last-ball thriller against Mumbai Indians, and were whacked big time by Sunrisers Hyderabad.

In other words, Kohli was not able to play to his strength. Against Mumbai in Bangalore, Kohli set himself nicely with a 32-ball 46 in chase of 188 before unsuccessfully targeting Jasprit Bumrah in the 14th over. Bangalore, as always heavily dependent on himself and AB de Villiers, lost their way from there despite the latter remaining unbeaten on 70.

Kohli later conceded that it was a mistake to have gone after Bumrah, the best bowler in the opposition.

Against Hyderabad, the game was perhaps gone before Kohli came into the crease. Hyderabad had plundered 231, and Bangalore were down and out. Kohli managed just three.

Thus Kohli got the chance to chase again against KXIP, and seemed determined to ensure he would leave a mark this time. That he badly wanted to do it was visible from the way he pointed to the RCB logo in his jersey after completing what in essence was a regulation half-century for the great batsman.

Bangalore were chasing 174 – a competitive but not big target. Kohli paced it to near perfection, although he didn’t quite do what he does so often: finish the game.

Patterns from Punjab’s innings showed that Bangalore had to go big in the Power Play. Punjab scored 60 without loss in the period. Bangalore bettered it, scoring 63 although they lost Parthiv Patel. Kohli was on song, racing to 34 off his first 20.

The other pointer from Punjab’s innings was that scoring became difficult after the initial phase. Punjab smashed 90 in the first ten, but scored only 83 in the second half. It’s not often that Chris Gayle fails to get a 100 after playing 64 balls; he missed the mark by one run. Gayle had scored 48 off his first 23, which came down to just 18 off his next 23 before he accelerated again in the death.

Gayle wasn’t able to accelerate in the middle overs for two reasons – Punjab lost key wickets, and were not able to target spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Moeen Ali.

Kohli, and AB de Villiers, learnt that quickly. They scored only 33 runs between overs 8 and 12 as Punjab’s two Ashwins operated. Both batsmen were happy to knock them around; runs could always be scored off pacers.

M Ashwin went for only 24 runs in four overs despite going wicketless. R Ashwin conceded 30 from his quota for one wicket. Both bowlers could have had better figures if not for some sloppy fielding.

Kohli reached his half-century off 37 balls, while de Villiers was at one stage 28 off 21. The asking rate was always under control, but things nearly went haywire after Kohli fell to Mohammed Shami in the 16th over.

The equation then was 46 off 27, which became 38 off 18. Kohli’s exit could have once again been the turning point – like in the Mumbai game – but this time, de Villiers and Marcus Stoinis closed it out. They were aided by some poor catching, and average bowling.

Kohli and Bangalore will be happy to get off the mark – finally. He showed in the post-match presentation that his sense of humour is intact, joking he was happy to speak as the winning captain for a change. The game was the near ideal scenario for Kohli, and by extension Bangalore. It would have been completely ideal had he finished it off, instead of leaving it to the wobbly middle order once again.

IPL 2019 | Unglamorous and Underrated, Chawla …

Who is the third highest wicket-taker in the Indian Premier League?

If you’re surprised that the answer to the above question is Piyush Chawla, you’re unlikely to be the only one.

The Kolkata Knight Riders legspinner has been a constant feature in the tournament through its 12 years, and recently became only the 11th player overall to play 150 IPL games. He has 144 wickets from 149 innings at a fairly acceptable economy rate of 7.70, and a strike rate better than Harbhajan Singh, R Ashwin and even team-mate Sunil Narine.

Chawla is just 13 wickets away from the man who leads the IPL wicket takers charts, Lasith Malinga with only Amit Mishra (149 wickets) in between. Considering each bowler who is currently in the top five – the two others being Dwayne Bravo and Harbhajan – are at least 35 years old, Chawla, who is 30, has a fairly decent shot at the top spot in the future.

“I knew I was somewhere in the top five. Thanks for telling me I’m in the top three now!” Chawla tells CricketNext. “I don’t think too much about what is the highest wicket tally and who is the highest in the list. I just focus on my work, which is the most important thing. I don’t think about what people are doing around me, who is getting wickets and who is not. I just focus on what I can do to help my team win.”

Yet, Chawla’s numbers have almost gone unnoticed. The spinner has largely slipped under the radar, silently playing a key role in KKR being one of the successful franchises in IPL. Does he feel he’s underrated?

“I know what I’m doing on the field, my records just speak for that,” he says. “Underrated…well, it’s not about underrated because when you play for just two franchises (other being Kings XI Punjab) in 12 years, it means you’ve done really well somewhere and that’s why they are showing faith in you. When you stay in a franchise for that long, it means you’ve done something well for them, only then they’ll show the trust in you.

"So I won’t say underrated. Maybe there is no hype because I’m not too much into glamour or doing stuff after getting wickets. If you see, if I get hit for a four, I smile and walk back. I get hit for a six, I smile and walk back. I get a wicket, I smile and walk back. Maybe because of that. That’s my personality. I’m like that since the beginning.”

One of the reasons for the lack of ‘hype’ around Chawla in the IPL is that his wickets graph is a steady one, without drastic peaks. His best season in terms of wickets was the inaugural one in 2008 for Punjab, where he got 17. Since then, Chawla has had three seasons with 11 wickets each, and two seasons each with 16, 14 and 12 wickets apiece.

Through it all, Chawla has played second fiddle to Sunil Narine. The two were the leading wicket-takers for KKR the last time they won the trophy, in 2014; Narine got 21 while Chawla picked up 14.

Over the years, Narine has rightly been the more celebrated spinner in KKR, with 115 wickets from 103 matches. The presence of Narine has largely overshadowed Chawla’s supporting act, but it has been just as equally important for the side.

In fact, Narine and Chawla have very similar numbers since the latter joined the side in 2014. Chawla has 60 wickets for KKR from 63 matches, while Narine has picked up 69 wickets from 72 matches in the same period.

“He’s (Narine’s) a personality who doesn’t talk much. The way he looks on the field, that’s how he is off the field also. It’s the same,” explains Chawla. “The good thing about him is that whenever he comes in to bowl, in Power Play or the slog overs, he’s very calm. No matter if he gets hit, or if he gets a wicket. So he’s very similar to my kind of personality. We just focus on the job. Since we have a similar kind of personality, we end up gelling well and make a good spin pair.”

Chawla’s role in KKR has changed slightly in the last two seasons, with the emergence of Kuldeep Yadav in 2017 and a change in leadership with Dinesh Karthik taking over from Gautam Gambhir in 2018. Chawla is now predominantly used as a Power Play option, with Karthik trusting his former Under-19 teammate to do the tough job.

Under Gambhir from 2014 to 2017, Chawla bowled only 11 overs in total in the Power Plays. In six seasons with Punjab prior to joining KKR, Chawla bowled only 14.5 Power Play overs.

Last year alone, Karthik used Chawla in the Power Play phase in 22 overs. In six matches this year, Chawla has already bowled nine overs in the Power Plays.

Interestingly, Chawla has marginally better numbers in Power Plays than outside.

“As a legspinner and a wrist-spinner, you’re bowling most number of overs in the Power Play. Somewhere it shows the confidence that the captain is showing in you. On the other hand, as a cricketer, I have to believe that when the captain is showing confidence, I have to do something special as well. Thankfully, till now I’m doing a decent job in the Power Play and would love to keep that going forward,” says Chawla on the changing role.

Outside of the IPL, Chawla’s career is one of two contrasting halves. The first half saw plenty of peaks. He came into spotlight when he bowled Sachin Tendulkar with a googly in a Challenger Series match before he made his first-class debut at 17. He made his Test debut in the same year, and went on to be a part of sides that won the World T20 2007 and World Cup 2011. He even played county cricket at 20, for Sussex.

All that changed in the second half, and Chawla hasn’t played for India since December 2012. He tried to make a comeback by turning up for Somerset the next season, but that wasn’t to be.

Chawla made a switch to Gujarat from Uttar Pradesh in 2017-18, after playing just two matches in the previous season. There were speculations that it was because of Kuldeep’s emergence, but Chawla shot them down saying the move was because pitches up north were unresponsive. Across two Ranji Trophy seasons for Gujarat, Chawla has picked up 52 wickets from 14 matches.

These are good times for wrist spinners, and one of the most experienced among those has not given up yet.

“In the first half, I played for India and everything went really well. After that too, I’ve done decently well. But there are a few things that are not in my control,” says Chawla. “That is selection. If you see, in the last three-four years, I’ve done decently well in first-class cricket. I guess there are very few players in India who are playing currently and have around 900-odd professional wickets. I think I’m one or two bowlers with that.

"Things are going really well…the IPL and first-class cricket. Yes, it’s been six and a half years since I played for India, but it’s not like I’m too old to make a comeback. I’m just 30. But people have been watching me for so long that they think I’m old. But I’m still just 30. There’s always hope as a cricketer than I can make a comeback. In the last two years for Gujarat, across formats, I’ve picked up more than 100 wickets which is a big number.

"Age… we have a lot of big examples like Mahi bhai, Harbhajan Singh, the way he is bowling. As long as you stay fit, age is just a number. Fitness obviously plays a big part, nowadays cricket has become so demanding that you have to keep fit. I just make sure I’m in the gym every day except match days. I’ve become more mature as a bowler and have more experience. I’m working really hard on my fitness as well, I’m looking a different Piyush Chawla on the field now. You never know when you’ll get a call, you should always be prepared for that.”

* all stats prior to Kolkata Knight Riders v Delhi Capitals match on April 12

IPL 2019 | KKR Outsmart RR in Fortress Jaipur,…

The Sawai Mansigh Stadium in Jaipur is considered a fortress for Rajasthan Royals in the IPL, with visiting teams often struggling to adjust to the conditions and pitch.

On Sunday (April 7), though, it was the visiting Kolkata Knight Riders who outwitted the hosts completely, making strategically better moves to end up winning by eight wickets. In the process, they might have set a template for other teams to follow while playing at the stadium.

The first, and one of the most decisive moves by KKR happened at the selection-level. They read the pitch to perfection when they picked Harry Gurney over Lockie Ferguson. Gurney is a left-arm pacer with plenty of variations as opposed to the outright pace of Ferguson, and was clearly the best option for the slow pitch. His 2 for 25 earned him the Man of the Match award.

Gurney’s selection made life difficult for Rajasthan, who just didn’t have the power-game to tackle the slow strangle. The only two Rajasthan batsmen who can consistently score quick are Englishmen Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes, with almost every other player being an ‘anchor’.

The presence of three spinners in Piyush Chawla, Sunil Narine and Kuldeep Yadav, apart from the wily Gurney, ensured Rajasthan couldn’t get going at any stage. They managed just 139 despite losing just three wickets, with the four slow bowlers combining for just 99 runs in 16 overs.

Smith ended unbeaten on a 59-ball 73*, which was a fairly decent effort given the nature of the track. The problem for Rajasthan, though, is that they have too many batsmen playing similar roles. Ajinkya Rahane’s T20 strike-rate is around 118. Sanju Samson and Smith strike at around 125. Rahul Tripathi’s strike-rate is around 130, boosted by his numbers as an opener.

It leaves too much to do for Buttler, and it doesn’t help that they’re reluctant to give Stokes more time in the middle. Both had tough games on Sunday, and Rajasthan just couldn’t crawl back.

Rajasthan lost their captain Rahane in the second over, allowing Dinesh Karthik to choke the foreign batsmen with spin. Buttler and Smith struggled to get going against spin, with Chawla bowling three in the Power Play and Narine bowling one. Rajasthan managed just 28 runs in the first six overs, with even Buttler

scoring only 18 off 21.

Smith did what he could do best – nudging around for singles and running hard for doubles, but Rajasthan could get no momentum as Kolkata refused to give pace on the ball. In a smart move, Kolkata never bowled Andre Russell, who could have been one bowler that Smith and Buttler might have looked to target.

Buttler scored only 25 runs in his first 28 balls. Just when he seemed to get going, reverse-sweeping Kuldeep for a four and following it up with a six, he holed out to the deep handing Gurney his maiden IPL wicket.

Rajasthan were 77 for 2 in the 12th over then, but still opted for Tripathi over Stokes. Smith continued at around a run-a-ball, and although he did hit the odd boundary with clever strokeplay, he couldn’t quite accelerate much as Kolkata just didn’t give him pace. Tripathi managed just six off eight, and Stokes struggled in a 14-ball 7* as Rajasthan managed just 36 runs in the last five overs despite having eight wickets in hand.

Rahane the captain also missed the trick when he opened with the spin of K Gowtham to Narine. Ever since taking the role of an opener, Narine has been a murderer of spin bowling. Earlier this season, he smashed Kings XI Punjab’s Varun Chakravarthy for 25 in an over. He did an encore to Gowtham, blasting four fours and a six in a 22-run over.

Rahane corrected the mistake soon and went with Jofra Archer and Dhawal Kulkarni, and was nearly rewarded with Narine’s wicket if not for Tripathi dropping a sitter.

By then, though, it was too late. KKR smashed 65 runs in the Power Play, killing the chase right there.

Kolkata have a batting unit that can fire from top to bottom. Rajasthan’s batting relies on ‘true’ pitches with consistent bounce. The Mansingh stadium has historically produced such tracks allowing them to play strokes, but the story has been different this season. They’ve now lost two of their three games in the venue, with batsmen unable to play their shots freely.

Kolkata were smart enough to realise that, and more teams could follow suit in the coming games.

IPL 2019 | Kohli 2.0 Fails to do the Job for F…

If ever there was a match that showed Virat Kohli passing the baton and his Royal Challengers Bangalore teammates not taking it, it was the Sunday (April 7) game against Delhi Capitals at the M Chinnaswamy stadium.

Kohli the captain has faced it ever since taking charge in 2012. Over the seven years, he has seen multiple set of players just unable to step up to his demands. The blame for that lies not just with the players though, and Kohli’s leadership itself has rightly come under the scanner this IPL.

On Sunday, Kohli the batsman repeatedly passed on the responsibility to his colleagues, who just didn’t take it. In a rather subdued and weird innings, Kohli ended with 41 off 33, but was silently watching from the other end for the most part as he hardly got strike.

Kohli faced just 20 balls in the first 10 overs – clearly defeating the purpose of him opening the batting. In fact, he faced just 28 balls in the first 16 overs, in which he managed only 27 runs.

Interestingly, it seemed like Kohli was not in any sort of a hurry too. In the rare occasions he got strike, he passed it back. Kohli scored 25 singles in all, with 17 of those coming in consecutive balls he faced.

By the end of the 16th over, Kohli had scored just one boundary. That came in the very first ball he faced, through a streaky edge that just about evaded the man at wide slip.

After that, Kohli decided to take it slow and long, and was content nudging and driving for singles. His partners, however, just didn’t pass the strike back.

AB de Villiers played seven dots in his 16 balls. Marcus Stoinis, the No. 4, played six dots in his 17 balls. Both fell trying to make a move, which meant RCB managed only six an over for the first 12.

Moeen Ali gave the innings impetus with three sixes and a four, but he could manage only a cameo of 32 (18). Once he fell, Kohli tried breaking free with a couple of sixes off Sandeep Lamichhane, but fell when he targeted Kagiso Rabada. He was the first of three wickets to fall in the 18th over, killing RCB’s hopes of putting up a competitive target. Delhi’s wobbly middle-order did make the game interesting towards the end, but Bangalore just didn’t have enough runs on the board.

Barring the 49-ball 84 on a belter of a Chinnaswamy pitch against KKR, Kohli has taken the role of being the anchor throughout this season. His strike-rate this season is just over 126. In comparison, even Ajinkya Rahane has struck at over 130.

The approach didn’t work against Delhi though, as the anchor was stuck at the non-striker’s end for way too long.