Kane Williamson has steered Sunrisers Hyderabad to the top of the Indian Premier League table since the New Zealander was elevated to captain in the absence of scandal-tained David Warner.
Williamson, the only foreign captain in this season’s edition of the lucrative franchise, has ensured an unbeaten run for Hyderabad in the first three games of the Twenty20 league.
The Kiwi cuts a much lower profile than Warner but has notched 92 runs in the Sunrisers’ three matches, including a fifty in their win over Kolkata Knight Riders on Saturday.
Hyderabad, who won the tournament in 2016, next face second-placed Kings XI Punjab, who recorded their second win on Sunday buoyed by a quick 63-run blitz by Chris Gayle.
“Obviously nice to win three in a row,” said Williamson after the Sunrisers’ win at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens last week.
“Bowlers have executed their skills really well, but we know every game is tough, so look to continue doing that.”
Williamson was a last-minute replacement for Warner after the high-profile Australian was banned from the IPL over the South Africa ball-tampering scandal.
Australia skipper Steve Smith – another big ticket name for the IPL – was also dropped as captain of the Rajasthan Royals.
The cheating row, so close to the IPL season launch, threatened to sully the billion-dollar franchise.
But the glitzy tournament is already earning its reputation with close finishes and big hits in steady supply just a few weeks into the world’s most popular T20 league.
“All the eight teams are striving for that extra “one-percenters’ that can make the difference between winning and losing,” former South Africa all-rounder Jacques Kallis wrote in The Times of India newspaper.
“On many occasions in the past ten years I have made the point that the difference between the top team and the bottom team in the IPL is smaller than any other cricket league in the world,” said Kallis, who advises the Knight Riders.
Gayle was only selected in the third round of IPL bidding, picked up by Punjab for just $314,000 in the January auctions that saw rookies going for more than $1 million.
But the West Indian did not disappoint, smashing 63 off 33 balls in his opener for the Kings XI.
Gayle hit 7 fours and 4 sixes as Kings XI defeated Chennai Super Kings by four runs and cruised into second place on the IPL ladder.
“It’s good to be back,” the 38-year-old big hitter said after Punjab’s win.
Other standout performances include a 14-ball fifty – the fastest in IPL history – by Punjab opener Lokesh Rahul and some entertaining knocks by Knight Riders batsman Andre Russell and England’s Jason Roy for Delhi Daredevils.
According to Fleming though, it was KXIP opener Chris Gayle‘s knock of 63 off 33, including seven fours and six sixes that proved to be the difference.
“We were hit hard by Gayle. He played really well. We thought we might be able to pick him up with him being a little bit rusty. We did incredibly well to restrict the score to somewhere under 200,” Fleming said.
“The second half of our bowling during the innings was very good. We were able to get some wickets and create pressure. A score of 196 is still very high, but it’s a lot lower than what it could have been. I’m proud of the effort.
— Chennai Super Kings (@ChennaiIPL) April 16, 2018
“During the chase, we just hung in and as good as Gayle was at the start of their innings, Dhoni was good at the back end of ours. We were only one hit away from stealing another win. A great game of cricket, that ebbed and flowed, and two really good batting performances from two senior players.”
The CSK skipper put in a show for the fans and almost took his team over the line, despite batting with a stiff back and depositing balls into the stands whenever pitched in his range.
“When you’re chasing, you get certainty in an uncertain game. So you can manage your risk, like you saw MS (Dhoni) managing his almost to perfection. It was a couple of good yorkers from Mohit Sharma that denied us a win,” the former Kiwi captain said.
— Chennai Super Kings (@ChennaiIPL) April 15, 2018
Dhoni hit five sixes and six boundaries during his 44-ball innings and looked on track to pull off a remarkable win. Chennai needed 17 runs in the last over and Dhoni hit seamer Mohit Sharma for a boundary to bring the equation down to 11 from three balls. However, Dhoni failed to connect with the next ball and turned down a single on the penultimate ball before depositing the final delivery for a six.
After the match, Dhoni revealed he was batting with severe back pain and was relying almost exclusively on his forearms to hit boundaries.
“The back is pretty bad, but God has given me lot of power and I don’t need to use my back a lot,” Dhoni said. “My arms can do the job. It shouldn’t be too bad because I know what happened, and when you know the extent of injury, you know how bad it really is.”