Karthik Krishnaswamy (ESPNcricinfo)
The loss of Mitchell Johnson to a rib injury had left Kings XI Punjab’s bowling looking a little suspect ahead of their Champions T20 opener, but it proved a bit of a blessing in disguise for them, with his replacement playing a crucial hand in an five-wicket win over Hobart Hurricanes.
With the four-foreigner limit leaving no room for him in Kings XI’s star-studded line-up, Thisara Perera didn’t play a single game for them during their 2014 IPL campaign. With Johnson’s absence giving him an opportunity, Perera grabbed it, taking two wickets in a three-over spell in which he conceded less than a run a ball before coming in to bat in a thorny situation and scoring an unbeaten 20-ball 35 that steered Kings XI to a win with 14 balls remaining.
The margin of victory looked fairly wide in the end, but it could have gone either way when Kings XI were 51 for 4 in the eighth over, chasing 147. This, though, was where the quality and depth of their batting came to the fore, with Glenn Maxwell playing strokes that belied a two-paced pitch on his way to a 25-ball 43 and George Bailey showing a cool head that his Big Bash League franchise could have done with during their innings, in putting on an unbroken 69 with Perera.
During the IPL, Kings XI had won six out of seven matches batting second, and had chased three 190-plus targets successfully. But on a greenish Mohali pitch where the back-of-a-length ball behaved a touch unpredictably – moving sideways when new, stopping on the batsmen later on, and often bouncing more than expected – their top order were quickly in trouble. Virender Sehwag’s first-ball dismissal owed more to his impetuosity than to the conditions, but Wriddhiman Saha, David Miller and Manan Vohra were all discomfited by the extra bounce, and ended up skying catches to mid-on or mid-off while going hard at length balls.
Under these circumstances, Maxwell’s innings showcased his rare talent, as he somehow found ways to slap the seamers inside-out or loft them back over their heads, while also playing one of his trademark reverse-sweeps against the legspinner Cameron Boyce.
It was an over from Boyce that reversed the momentum of the game back towards Kings XI, immediately after Maxwell had edged Evan Gulbis to the keeper. Perera found the third-man boundary via a streaky edge before hitting Boyce back over his head for six. Bailey then found the gap between deep midwicket and long-on when Boyce dropped his last ball short – 18 came off that over, and it left Kings XI needing 50 off 48.
Bailey and Perera kept their heads, attacked the loose balls – which for Perera was mostly whatever he could swing over the arc between midwicket and long-on – and the win, when it was achieved, came with time and wickets to spare, Bailey clouting Gulbis for successive fours in the 18th over.
Hurricanes’ innings, after they had been sent in to bat, lacked a sustained period when the batsmen were on top of the bowlers. Ben Dunk and Aiden Blizzard, the two left-handers in their top three, struggled for timing early on and got themselves out just as they were beginning to look comfortable. Perera dismissed both of them, and both times the extra bounce caused them to mishit length or back-of-a-length balls, to deep and short cover respectively.
At 78 for 4 in the 13th over, Hurricanes seemed to be going nowhere when Jonathan Wells joined Travis Birt. They proceeded to add 52, with the left-handed Birt flourishing while hitting the legspinner Karanveer Singh with the spin and the right-handed Wells cutting and driving fluently through the off side. Just when the partnership was threatening to take Hurricanes to a biggish total, however, Wells ran himself out, and Kings XI tightened the screws once again, conceding only 14 runs off the last 14 balls of the innings.