SHARJAH: The smartest buyers of the 2014 Indian Premier League (IPL) players' auction, Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) have played the smartest cricket in the first week of IPL 7. They have outplayed two past champions and overcome two targets in excess of 190 - engineered by their M-force. Glenn Maxwell and David Miller have taken the UAE by storm, with balls flying off their bats and the Punjabi flavour painting the town red with two back-to-back wins against Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals (RR). That has set the tone for what promises to be the best season for KXIP.
On Tuesday, Punjab will turn up at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium rubbing their hands in anticipation of beating Sunrisers Hyderabad to complete a hat-trick of wins. Maxwell and Miller have thrown caution to the winds, made batting look ridiculously easy and damaged bowling figures beyond repair. In short, they have been the chief architects of Punjab's rampaging start to season seven.
With innings of 95 off 43 balls and 89 of 45, Maxwell has sent shock waves across the Emirates. His partner in crime, Miller, has shifted gears swiftly - allowing Maxwell to stay in charge when together and taking over to finish the job once the Aussie departed. His 37-ball 54 and 19-ball 51 stand as witness. Such devastation has allowed Punjab to overpower Chennai's 205 and Rajasthan's 191, which are considered winning scores in T20 cricket.
But the flip side of it is that Punjab bowlers have been pretty average, conceding such heavy totals and putting their batting line-up under pressure. Had it not been for Miller and Maxwell, Punjab's story could have been entirely the opposite. That means Virender Sehwag will have to start talking soon to avoid another axe. Like Maxwell, KXIP have big hopes attached to their other new Aussie recruit Mitchell Johnson. But he has failed to repeat his Ashes bowling form so far, which has hurt Punjab badly. Indian pacers Lakshmipathy Balaji and Parvinder Awana too have been off colour, adding to Punjab's woes. Among spinners, Akshar Patel has bowled decently but the experienced Murali Kartik has disappointed.
Hyderabad lost a close fight to Rajasthan in their campaign opener; and though the bowlers put up a good show, defending just 133 was always going to be a tough ask. Dale Steyn, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Amit Mishra bowled commendably to make Rajasthan earn every run before James Faulkner's two consecutive boundaries settled the issue.
On Tuesday, SRH would want their Shikhar Dhawan-led batting to complement the good show of their bowlers. Dhawan and David Warner failed to convert their 30s into anything big, thus letting the side down. Much will also be expected of Aaron Finch partnering Dhawan at the top and Darren Sammy in the middle order. Both failed to leave a mark against Rajasthan. But Punjab in this mood will be a different proposition, and if Sehwag manages to come to the party along with Maxwell and Miller, the quality of Hyderabad bowling will be put to a stern test.
Kings XI Punjab: Cheteshwar Pujara, Virender Sehwag, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Glenn Maxwell, David Miller, George Bailey (c), Mitchell Johnson, Murali Kartik, Akshar Patel, Parwinder Awana, Lakshmipathy Balaji
Sunrisers Hyderabad: Aaron Finch, Shikhar Dhawan (c), David Warner, KL Rahul (wk), Darren Sammy, Venugopal Rao, Karan Sharma, Dale Steyn, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma.
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