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Maxwell blitzes win for KXIP on captaincy debut

Wisden India logo Wisden India 09-04-2017 Nisha Shetty

Making Glenn Maxwell the captain of Kings XI Punjab had puzzled quite a few people. Sure, he is a much-beloved figure in the Indian Premier League and one deserving of an IPL Twitter emoji, but his form had tailed off in the past two seasons and there was a real concern that captaincy would burden him further.

He emphatically proved that was not the case at all with an unbeaten 44 off 20 balls on a sluggish track in Indore to deliver a six-wicket win against Rising Pune Supergiant on Saturday (April 8).

Punjab opted to bowl first, but somewhat lost the plot at the death to allow Pune to reach a respectable 163 for 6. At first glance, by IPL standards, the total might not have seemed too alarming, but this pitch wasn't one where the ball was coming onto the bat, which made it crucial that those who made starts cashed in.

Unfortunately for Punjab, their top four all got their eye in, but lost their wicket before they could make an impact.

Manan Vohra was the first to fall, succumbing to a shorter ball from Ashok Dinda. Wriddhiman Saha was then caught in two minds squaring up against Imran Tahir and was bowled by the googly.

With Tahir operating, Maxwell smartly decided to promote Axar Patel to No. 4, ahead of himself. As the boundaries began to dry up, Axar and Hashim Amla got most of their runs in singles. A quiet over from Rahul Chahar, the 17-year-old legspinner hailing from Rajasthan and making his IPL debut, followed. Interestingly, Rahul had replaced Deepak Chahar – his older brother – in the Pune XI. His next over was a more eventful one -- a six to start off with, a couple of wides, and the wicket of Amla for 28. And when Axar departed moments later, a familiar Punjab duo came together in the middle: Maxwell and Miller.

The equation was 79 needed off 53 balls, and Maxwell barely took a few balls before he sent the ball sailing into the stands. Miller (30 not out) happily played second fiddle, while Maxwell took charge, slamming three more sixes and two fours against the likes of Tahir and Ben Stokes to take Punjab comfortably home with an over to spare.

At the start, Sandeep Sharma struck early, getting one to crash into Mayank Agarwal's stumps. An over later, he might have had Ajinkya Rahane too, but Vohra dropped the catch at cover. It might have proved expensive on another day, but T Natarajan, the Tamil Nadu left-arm seamer on IPL debut, picked up the slack, Rahane (19) not getting enough elevation to go past Marcus Stoinis at sweeper cover.

Pune might not have got off to a flier -- they made 35 for 2 in the Power Play compared to 59 for 1 in the last game -- but they could console themselves with the fact that Steven Smith, the captain, was still there. 

In the two months he's been in India, bowlers have largely been at a loss of how to get him out early; India's bowlers struggled and so did Mumbai's. What worked against Smith here was two of his own countrymen -- Maxwell and Stoinis -- were on the opposite team. The former brought the latter onto bowl and Stoinis responded with a delivery that rose on Smith, which he chipped to the fielder at deep square leg for 26.

When Swapnil Singh then snared the wicket of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, on the fourth attempt after much juggling, Pune were reduced to 71 for 4 in the 12th over. But, preventing Punjab from patting themselves on the back for a job well done so far, were Ben Stokes and Manoj Tiwary.

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It would have been easy to let the pressure bubble over, but during the course of their 61-run partnership, Stokes and Tiwary played out just one dot ball each. And while it was expected of Stokes to go crash-bang-wallop, Tiwary (40 not out off 23) showed he wasn't just there to hand the strike back to the England allrounder, hitting quite a few eye-pleasing strokes.

When Axar Patel caught Stokes off his own bowling for a 32-ball 50, Pune were 133 for 5, still some distance from a decent total. Tiwary and Dan Christian added 30 runs in the remaining 2.2 overs to get them a bit closer to respectable but it wasn't enough to scare Punjab.

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