By Niharika Raina
Pune, April 30 (IANS) When KL Rahul had announced in the toss that they are playing an extra bowler in Avesh Khan instead of a specialist batter in Manish Pandey, there were murmurs over Lucknow Super Giants taking a big punt on the bowling attack, offering nine options to get them the two points they needed at the MCA Stadium.
At the end of the day, it turns out that the risk was well worth the two points and a climb to third place in the points table. Though Avesh went for 0/26 in his three overs, Lucknow’s other bowlers, left-arm pacer Mohsin Khan, right-arm pacer Dushmantha Chameera and left-arm spinner Krunal Pandya stepped up to be the main architects for a fabulous 20-run win coming completely on the back of the bowlers.
In this year’s IPL, Lucknow had defended 168 and 199 against Mumbai Indians and 169 against Sunrisers Hyderabad. On Friday, they added another chapter to their defence by defending 153 against a Punjab batting side heavily dependent on ferocious power-hitters.
“I thought we didn’t quite have the total we wanted to but the guys bowled really well and somehow our bowlers got it done for us tonight. We have a lot to thank for them. They bowled really well and it’s great to have that sort of bowling unit at the moment,” were wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock’s words after the match in praise of the bowling attack.
After being 46/1 in powerplay, with Mayank Agarwal removed by Dushmantha Chameera, Punjab needed 108 more runs with nine wickets in hand. On a flat pitch, it would have been a cakewalk for them. But there, Lucknow applied their spin choke to leave Punjab in a trance.
Post powerplay, the chase began to fall away as Shikhar Dhawan was castled by Bishnoi in a pre-mediated attempt to slog-sweep. Bhanuka Rajapaksa, the lone left-handed batter in the side, tried to play for the turn but got a leading edge to point.
Livingstone danced down the pitch twice to hit Bishnoi for successive sixes in an over which yielded 18 runs. Just when it felt like Punjab would run away with the match, Mohsin took out Livingstone, who shuffled across to scoop for a cheeky boundary and could only glove behind to de Kock.
In the next over, Pandya, with his relentless pressure- building bowling, trapped Jitesh Sharma lbw after Lucknow took the review. This was just the second time in recent memory that Punjab struggled to hit away a left-arm spinner after Delhi’s left-arm spinner Axar Patel’s 2/10 and left-arm wrist-spin of Kuldeep Yadav yielded 2/24. In this edition, Lucknow’s spinners have bowled 56 overs in middle overs, picking 16 wickets, averaging 23.19 and have an economy rate of just 6.63.
With 51 required off the last five overs, Bairstow tried to wage a lone battle with the bat, taking two fours off Bishnoi. But Chameera delivered the knockout blow, forcing Bairstow to play at a full, wide delivery and edged to third man. Apart from the ball, Lucknow’s lower-order batters, mainly Chameera and Mohsin, played the long handle to take the side past 150-mark, which proved to be enough on a bowlers’ day out.
“I was unhappy with that middle phase (in batting) but this game has been completely about the bowlers. The way they scored those crucial 25-30 runs at the back end and then the way they bowled throughout the 20 overs was brilliant. They executed their plans to perfection and they held their nerve,” said a relieved Lucknow captain KL Rahul.
Compared to Lucknow’s 70/4 in the middle overs with the bat, Punjab were 57/4. In the death overs, Lucknow were 44/3 while Punjab were at 30/3. With the second half of IPL coming means tired and sluggish pitches across all venues, one won’t be surprised if the Lucknow middle overs suffocation will be seen again in the tournament.