By Niharika Raina
Mumbai, April 21 (IANS) One look at the Punjab Kings batting order and the average cricket fan will be in envy of it: The left and right opening combination of Shikhar Dhawan and Mayank Agarwal, an explosive Liam Livingstone at three, Jonny Bairstow slotted at four, Jitesh Sharma providing finishing touches alongside Odean Smith.
It’s extremely clear that Punjab’s batting approach, as seen by the batters assembled by them ahead of IPL 2022 has been built on one theory: To go all-out by looking to hit boundaries all the time. The approach makes their batting order look thrilling when every batter in the line-up comes to the boundary-hitting party when they chased down 206 against Royal Challengers Bangalore where no batter reached fifty but everyone contributed enough to secure a win in their opening match of the tournament apart from posting totals of 198, 189 and 180.
At the same time, when the ultra-attacking approach doesn’t come off and with tail starting early, Punjab can look lost with the bat and end up at a score which won’t justify their batting’s attacking worth, which scores of 137, 151 and more recently, 115 all out showed against a Covid-19 affected Delhi Capitals at the Brabourne Stadium on Wednesday.
Agarwal was striking well in the first three overs but once Delhi brought on Lalit Yadav and took out Shikhar Dhawan, Punjab’s ultra-attacking approach started to taper off on a pitch where the ball was gripping and stopping a bit.
It was Livingstone’s dismissal, though, which summed up the lack of adaptability of an all-out attacking approach from Punjab.
Against Axar Patel, a ferocious Livingstone tried to take him down by dancing down the pitch for a straight loft down the ground. But Axar had shortened his length and got the ball to turn away sharply, which meant Livingstone was already out of the crease and missed the ball completely while going for the loft to be stumped from behind.
With batters floundering while going for the attack barring a 32 from Jitesh Sharma, Punjab’s batting continued to fall apart till being bowled out for 115.
In his pitch report, broadcaster Simon Doull had predicted a score of 180-190 for the team batting first. But Punjab imploded spectacularly to prove his prediction wrong.
Moreover, with no Odean Smith, to get a genuine pacer in Nathan Ellis, Punjab’s batter had become weaker.
“We did not bat or bowl well, we have to put this behind. Losing too many wickets too early, but I do not want to dig too deep as the more we do it, the more the negatives that will come. 180 was a decent score but we were well short of that,” was Agarwal’s assessment of his team’s batting performance after the match.
Former South Africa captain Graeme Smith, while speaking to cricket.com, thinks Punjab can look to bring in Sri Lanka’s blazing batter Bhanuka Rajapaksa, who was left out of the playing eleven to bring in Bairstow after the first three matches to increase the depth of Punjab’s batting order.
The absence of Rajapaksa, with a staggering strike-rate of 230.56, has deprived Punjab of a flying start in power-play as a top-order power-hitter.
“I think its a bigger story for me. If you have Rabada batting at No.7, that’s a problem. It’s like one or two places high. He’s not the player who’s gonna get 70-80. On paper, they have a great top order. We thought may be they’ll bring in Nathan Ellis or a specialist bowler, but Rajapaksa has to come into consideration. With Bairstow, I’ll back him for one or two games, but Rajapaksa brings certain balance to the team.”
In terms of team-wise run-rate in different phases of batting in IPL 2022, Punjab have the second-best run-rate in power-play (9.52). But when it goes to middle overs, it goes down to 7.72 (second worst) and 9.35 in the death overs (worst among all teams). Apart from Livingstone and Sharma, no other batter in Punjab has exhibited desirable form and consistency in the tournament.
So, the story for Punjab’s batting order till now in IPL 2022 has been to go for the kill or implode completely. They must remember that there is a fine line between being carefree and careless; one change in letter, the meaning of the word changes.
With lack of capable options in the back-up, Punjab have to pull up their socks ahead of the second half of the tournament in terms of their batting approach, otherwise the up-and-down extremes will continue to happen either batting first or second, before the clock runs out for them to make the playoffs.