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Maxwell blast propels Punjab to first victory

Wisden India logo Wisden India 17-04-2016

After their loss to Delhi Daredevils at the Feroz Shah Kotla a couple of days ago, David Miller, the Kings XI Punjab skipper, insisted that his team would learn from its mistakes.

It was hard not to take the South African’s words with a pinch of salt because he had said the same after the five-wicket to Gujarat Lions in their opener.

It took Punjab a week to plug all gaps. But they showed that when they do come together, they are worth watching with dropped jaws.

Rising Pune Supergiants were the ones reeling at the end of a show fit for Twenty20 enthusiasts as Punjab ended their losing streak with a six-wicket win at the PCA Stadium on Sunday (April 17).

After their bowlers put on a stellar show to restrict Pune to 152 for 7 from 20 overs, the hosts moved into the ascendancy as M Vijay and Manan Vohra pieced together a 97-run opening partnership. It still needed a final ballast from Glenn Maxwell to guide them to 153 for 4 in 18.4 overs.

Vijay and Vohra shielded an ailing middle order for 12.1 overs, after which Vohra was trapped in front by Ankit Sharma for 51. But by then, Punjab needed only 56 from 46 balls with Vijay going strong on 44 and three out-of-form but quality batsmen to come.

The wobble began when M Ashwin got the better of Shaun Marsh. It turned into a proper rattle when Vijay’s edge was pouched by MS Dhoni five balls later, also off the legspinner.

Vijay’s 49-ball 53 was instrumental in Punjab coming close, but if wasn’t for a calculated blinder from Maxwell, Punjab would probably not have a win to lean back on.

Ashwin did everything in his power to stretch Punjab and he found success with his third scalp — that of Miller — but his figures of 4-0-36-3 were not going to stop Maxwell. Nothing was. After making just 2 runs in two games combined, Maxwell finally came to the party, smashing 32 runs from 14 balls with two sixes and three fours to put an end to the suspense.

Pune, opting to bat, were the ones in the driver’s seat at the start of the game. Though Punjab had packed off Ajinkya Rahane, Kevin Pietersen and Thisara Perera, they had conceded 76 runs in 10 overs and there was every chance that Pune could hit the upswing with Faf du Plessis and Steven Smith at the crease.

After being shaken up by du Plessis’s brazen hitting and ingenuity in the first 10 overs, Miller made some smart bowling changes to ensure Pune didn’t have the chance to free their arms in the period that followed.

The trend was kicked off by Sandeep Sharma, who was rewarded for his cramping in-swingers with the wickets of Rahane and Perera, Although he became predictable enough for du Plessis to take him apart in his third over, Sandeep recovered in his fourth and finished with fine figures of 2 for 23 from 4 overs with 12 dot balls.

Miller’s decision to bring Mohit Sharma on after the Power Play became a masterstroke on the skipper’s part. Mohit’s ability to vary pace with the slightest of adjustments to his action forced both du Plessis and Smith to rush into shots, which is perhaps why they didn’t step on the accelerator when they should have.

Until the 16th over, the duo didn’t attempt to up the run rate, by which point Punjab had bowled 30 deliveries without conceding a boundary. Having realised that their run rate was taking a nosedive, Smith swung his bat and came away with a few boundaries, but eventually was undone by a Mohit slower one and ended up slicing to Miller at extra cover. That put an end to the 63-run fourth-wicket stand.

But the strong Sunday crowd loved it. Not because the dangerous Smith was dismissed for 38, but because Dhoni was walking out with 13 deliveries left in the innings. The stage was set for the master finisher and the crowd was on its feet. But all they got to see was him picking an awkward single off Kyle Abbott and then hitting a low full toss off Mohit straight to Maxwell at long-on. That was the first time the Indian limited-overs skipper was dismissed since the first game of the World Twenty20 on March 15.

There was a collective sigh when Maxwell held on, but it turned into a loud cheer in no time. Before Mohit got rid of Dhoni, he had caught du Plessis off his own bowling. He was on a hat-trick and the crowd was behind their paceman.

Mohit wasn’t lucky to complete the sequence, but figures of with 3 for 23 from 4 overs were enough to give Punjab the option of putting an end to questions regarding their form.

Thanks to a clinical opening stand and Maxwell’s blitz, they did.

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