For much of the season, that scenario was never a possibility given the electric start made by Kings XI. It has simply been a case of two halves for Ravichandran Ashwin’s men, as they ultimately ended the season in lowly seventh spot.
The franchise took the league by storm in the first-half with five victories from their first six matches. They ended it with seven defeats in their final eight games in a dramatic turnaround which included a run of five consecutive defeats culminating in the loss to Chennai.
Here, we look at the three main reasons for Punjab’s late horror show.
GAYLE’S FORM COINCIDES WITH KINGS XI’S
Much of Punjab’s early success in the IPL was built on the opening partnership between KL Rahul and Chris Gayle. The towering Jamaican sat out the side’s opening two matches but took no time in announcing himself in style as he smashed an explosive fifty on his franchise debut. He followed that up with an unbeaten ton against the Sunrisers Hyderabad before smashing fifties against Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians.
Since then, Gayle only scored 66 runs combined in his six subsequent innings with 21 being his highest score. That the side went on to lose five of those matches shows how Kings XI’s form has coincided with that of Gayle with the 38-year-old’s loss in form spelling trouble for the side.
While their dependence on Rahul and Gayle kept increasing with each passing game, the middle-order at Ashwin’s disposal was found wanting whenever called upon. Karun Nair’s half-centuries against Delhi Daredevils in the opening game and Chennai in the final game were the only 50-plus scores registered by any Kings XI middle-order batsmen in this year’s IPL.
That damning statistic has exposed the major drawback for the side throughout their campaign with middle-order collapses after the fall of the openers being a common theme.
Apart from Nair in patches, none of Aaron Finch, Mayank Agarwal, Yuvraj Singh or Manoj Tiwary were able to put in any meaningful contributions which hurt the side badly.
Where were you hiding all season Karun Nair?!— Cricketwallah (@cricketwallah) May 20, 2018
MOVE FROM MOHALI TO INDORE BACKFIRES
The Kings XI played their first three home matches of the season in their traditional setting at the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) Stadium in Mohali. For reasons known only to the franchise, the Holkar Stadium in Indore was chosen to host the side’s remaining four home games.
At Mohali, Ashwin’s men were unstoppable as they won three out of three matches. The long boundaries had assisted their strong spin contingent tremendously. The move to Indore was a poor one with the side succumbing to three defeats in the four matches played at the venue. To lose the shield of their ‘home fortress’ came back to bite the Kings XI big time with Indore’s short boundaries and batting friendly conditions neutralising their main weapon of spin.
KXIP won 5/6 games & 3/3 in Mohali— Jasveer Singh Kharra (@imjsk27) May 16, 2018
And then they came to Indore for some Gayle storm and rest is history
When Rajasthan Royals were handed a six-wicket thrashing by Kolkata Knight Riders at Eden Gardens on May 15, it seemed to spell the end of their IPL play-off hopes, while the victors stole a big march in the race.
As fate would have it, the two teams will meet again just over a week later at the same venue in the eliminator clash on Wednesday. The Royals’ victory over Royal Challengers Bangalore coupled with defeats for Mumbai Indians and Kings XI Punjab meant that they sealed the final play-off spot with 14 points.
On the other hand, Kolkata continued their momentum from that win over Rajasthan with an impressive dismantling of Sunrisers Hyderabad in their final league encounter.
Dinesh Karthik’s Knight Riders got the better of Ajinkya Rahane’s Royals in both their meetings in the league stage. More so, both of Kolkata’s wins were comprehensive. While they won with 12 balls to spare and six wickets in hand at home, their margin of victory in the away clash at Jaipur was equally huge (seven wickets).
Added with the fact that Kolkata will be playing on their familiar home turf in front of their passionate fans, Rahane and his men will definitely have their task cut out when they take the field on Wednesday.
ROYALS’ BATTING WOES
With the departure of the in-form Jos Buttler, Rajasthan’s batting is looking rather shaky. Rahane’s own form has been poor if anything while Sanju Samson has gone off the boil completely after starting the season with a bang. Rahul Tripathi has misfired all season too before finding some form with a half-century against Royal Challengers Bangalore.
The lack of a big score while batting first has been the undoing for Rajasthan in both their losses to Kolkata this season. With the Knight Riders batting fairly deep, Rajasthan cannot afford another subpar total on Wednesday if they are to have a chance. They will need Rahane and Samson to step up to the plate if they are to fight to live another day.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Sunil Narine, Chris Lynn, Robin Uthappa, Nitish Rana, Dinesh Karthik (c, wk), Shubman Gill, Andre Russell, Javon Searles, Piyush Chawla, Kuldeep Yadav, Prasidh Krishna.
Rajasthan Royals: Ajinkya Rahane (c), Rahul Tripathi, Sanju Samson, Heinrich Klaasen (wk), Stuart Binny, K Gowtham, Shreyas Gopal, Ish Sodhi, Jofra Archer, Jaydev Unadkat, Ben Laughlin.
With a spot in the finals at stake, both teams will be eager to put their best foot forward as they seek to avoid playing another qualifier.
Luckily for both teams, there are no major injury concerns ahead of Tuesday’s clash.
For Chennai Super Kings, all-rounder Shane Watson is expected to return to the playing XI after being rested in the side’s win over Kings XI Punjab.
This means that one of Faf du Plessis and Sam Billings will miss out on Tuesday. Given Billings’ poor form since his half-century against Kolkata Knight Riders early in the season, the experienced head of Du Plessis is expected to be preferred by skipper MS Dhoni for the clash.
On the other hand, Sunrisers Hyderabad are coming into the game on the back of three consecutive losses which has taken some shine off their otherwise blistering campaign.
In their loss to Kolkata Knight Riders, skipper Kane Williamson opted to go with West Indies all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite instead of England’s Alex Hales. Though Brathwaite failed with the bat, he did manage to pick up two wickets with the ball.
In Tuesday’s crunch clash, his all-round abilities should give him the edge again over Hales with Sunrisers expected to field the same playing XI which took to the field against Kolkata.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: Shikhar Dhawan, Shreevats Goswami (wk), Kane Williamson (c), Manish Pandey, Shakib Al Hasan, Yusuf Pathan, Carlos Brathwaite, Rashid Khan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Sandeep Sharma, Siddharth Kaul.
Chennai Super Kings: Shane Watson, Ambati Rayudu, Faf du Plessis, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni (c, wk), Dwayne Bravo, Ravindra Jadeja, Deepak Chahar, Harbhajan Singh, Shardul Thakur, Lungi Ngidi.