INDIAN PREMIER LEAGUE 2020
The dramatic has now become predictable for Kings XI Punjab this season ©BCCI/IPL
Two wins in a week and Mayank Agarwal is already gleefully retrospecting in life. “This is sports. It can get hard but you can’t live without (it).”
Till only four days ago, even in his personal success, he was finding himself in a dejected dressing room too frequently, reactions coming after defeats that were unlikely to be for his team. On Sunday too, against Mumbai Indians, that moment wasn’t too far away.
When his good friend and captain KL Rahul was trudging back to the dugout flipping his bat several times mid-way through the first Super Over, it painted a picture of helplessness. Yet again, when victory was in sight, it seemed KXIP had stepped on a quicksand – this time, by offering Mumbai Indians a target of six runs in the Super Over. Only a few minutes earlier, they were breathing easy in the dugout, needing four runs off four balls. But all that the batsmen in the middle could manage to do was level the scores and push the game into the Super Over. For the fifth time, they almost fluffed their opportunity of sealing a win when possibilities of the same were slim for the opposition. As KL Rahul mentioned: “Not the first time, getting used to it”.
Several experts may have spoken about the positives of losing in sports to help build camaraderie as a core value in children and young adults, but as many have also spoken from experience about losing as a key reason for friction in professional team sports – even if the Netflix documentary ‘Losers’ provides a more positive outlook towards it.
Chris Jordan, the KXIP pacer, claims, despite the string of losses, the team has managed to stick it out together. “From the last two games, especially, the team spirit and camaraderie we’ve shown as a group, as a franchise has been second to none,” he said
Even in dejection. the pain of losing from a winning position is not similar to being outplayed. And to lose so frequently in a similar manner as KXIP had for a few weeks is rare in cricket. Not surprisingly, with each passing defeat, Rahul’s tone, morale and perception were also dropping.
Against Delhi Capitals (Losing after needing 1 in 3 balls): “It is bittersweet. It’s still our first game, so lots of learning.”
Against Rajasthan Royals (losing after having to defend 84 off the last 5 overs): “Look, this is T20 cricket, we have seen it for so many years now, we did a lot of things right, we have to keep our chin up and come back stronger. A lot of positives tonight, we did a lot of things right, but such things do happen… The game keeps you humble all the time, I honestly did think we had the game in our pocket.”
Against Kolkata Knight Riders (losing after needing 22 in 3 overs with 9 wickets in hand): “We started well, we got close, but honestly I have no answers.”
While the inability to close down games pushed them to the bottom of the points table, it also pointed to the fact that they were losing by small margins and were a better side than where they found themselves. There weren’t glaring fixes needed. Each time, the problems were different but the issue was common – the inability to finish the game. When the run of defeats ended, they didn’t make it any easier for themselves even in victories. Against Royal Challengers Bangalore, they pushed the run-chase to the last ball after needing only 11 runs off the last three overs, with nine wickets in hand and two set batsmen at the crease. And despite securing a much-needed win, the captain, who had remained unbeaten throughout the innings, wasn’t pleased. “As a group, we have been disappointing. It can get frustrating. It becomes a habit – winning and not winning,” he had said. “There are ups and downs and this has been the roller-coaster.”
Rahul admitted Mohammed Shami’s first Super Over, where he ensured Mumbai Indians only equalled their score, lifted the team’s morale. Once the game went into the first-ever ‘second Super Over’, Jordan restricted Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya to only 11 runs before Chris Gayle and Mayank comfortably chased down the total, KXIP did manage to sneak through for a second game in a row. “The way we’ve played our cricket this season, we could’ve finished on the winning side. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case,” Jordan said after the MI match. “Just glad that we’re getting a little bit of luck going our way. You need to just enjoy nights like these when you think you’ve won, then you’ve lost it and then won it again. Hopefully, this can give us some momentum.”
It’s no surprise that all of a sudden, from being seated at the bottom of the pile, they are just two wins short of a top four team now. In defeats, even if by small margins, KXIP went aggressive in finding their perfect combination and over-fixing their weaker areas. Several players were tried and without ample opportunities, or with just one failure, dumped. The consecutive victories may calm some of these experiments but the mysterious problem of the struggle to cross the line continues to plague them.
They’ve not had it easy so far and they haven’t found ways to have it easy in the near future either. It’s been that sort of a season for KXIP: what should have been dramatic, has now become predictable. The art of losing isn’t hard to master, apparently. Rahul, though, is certain: “We don’t want to make a habit of this”.