So that R Ashwin, eh? Over the coming weeks, he’s likely to bowl legspin instead of offspin for Kings XI Punjab, have opening batsmen in the middle order, push the finishers up top, invent ice-cream that tastes sour, build a working time machine, and categorically prove apples are better than oranges.
His tongue-in-cheek comments – which prompt other tongue-in-cheek comments – aside, one of Indian cricket’s brightest minds finally gets the chance to be full-time captain. Ashwin’s talent for reading batsmen and drawing them into traps has been the foundation of many Test wins for India – and T20 wins for Chennai Super Kings – but in 2018, with fingerspinners becoming a fashion faux pas, he will need to be doubly smart juggling his role as boss man and strike bowler.
But just as Ashwin leaves home, his opposite number Gautam Gambhir returns to where it all began. He split with Kolkata Knight Riders and no sooner did he become available that Delhi swiped right. It was a match made in, well, 2008. But who can resist all that nostalgia, least of all an ex that finished last thrice in seven years since breaking up.
In the news
Kings XI’s Aaron Finch will be getting married on Saturday, over on the other side of the world. And Daredevils’ Glenn Maxwell will be part of the festivities. So expect nothing more than the odd tweet from the two Australians. Chris Gayle and Jason Roy are pretty useful replacements to have, though. Kagiso Rabada has been ruled out of the entire season with a stress fracture of the back and has been replaced by Liam Plunkett in the Daredevils’ squad.
The likely XIs
Kings XI Punjab: 1 Chris Gayle, 2 KL Rahul (wk), 3 Mayank Agarwal/ Karun Nair, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 David Miller, 6 Marcus Stoinis, 7 Axar Patel, 8 R Ashwin (capt), 9 Andrew Tye, 10 Mohit Sharma, 11 Barinder Sran
Delhi Daredevils: 1 Gautam Gambhir (capt), 2 Colin Munro, 3 Jason Roy, 4 Rishabh Pant (wk), 5 Shreyas Iyer, 6 Chris Morris, 7 Vijay Shankar, 8 Amit Mishra, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Shahbaz Nadeem
Gambhir has opened the batting in 93 of his 122 innings in the IPL and, since 2015, has a strike-rate of 117 in the Powerplay, which rises to 129 in overs 7 to 15. But considering the corresponding figures of Rishabh Pant (125 and 154), Shreyas Iyer (100 and 148) and Jason Roy (138 and 126, for England in T20Is) coupled with their bowling attack – Mohammed Shami has a T20 economy rate of 9.52. Vijay Shankar is unproven, Trent Boult has not always had success in Indian conditions – it could be useful for Daredevils to stock their top order with big hitters and target a mammoth total. The captain can bat lower down and be insurance if things go wrong.
Stats that matter
Let’s get straight to it. Gambhir v Ashwin. Since 2015, the contest has been skewed in the bowler’s favour, with only 43 runs scored off 47 balls, which includes two wickets. In fact, Kings XI might feel like they have Gambhir covered with their spinners. In the same time period, Axar Patel has conceded only 36 runs off 42 balls to the Daredevils captain.
There are days when Chris Gayle might seem unstoppable. But they come less frequently now and Daredevils would hope to keep that trend going with Chris Morris, who will likely tuck the left-hander up with his pace and bounce. The head-to-head reads: 40 runs, 34 balls, three wickets.
David Miller has made 141 runs off 94 balls from each of Daredevils’ available bowlers, and has been dismissed only once – by Amit Mishra. He might not have played any short-form cricket since February, when he struggled badly against more of India’s wristspinners, but he should like starting the IPL against a set of bowlers who have rarely got him out. Additionally, he has made 607 runs at a strike-rate of 155 in Mohali. Miller won’t get too many better settings to get back in form.
So Kings XI’s finisher has a question mark over him. Their No. 4 isn’t as threatening as he once was. They don’t have too many options at No. 3. They do have a fairly long tail. All of that makes the top order’s job fairly difficult and the Daredevils can add to it if they realise that since 2015, KL Rahul has made only 165 runs off spin bowling at a strike-rate of 118, while losing his wicket four times. Against the quicks, he hits at 145 per 100 balls.
Opening batsmen are usually the best bets and Colin Munro makes a compelling case. Since 2015, he has a strike-rate of 157 against fast bowlers and 145 against spin and in Mohali’s hit-through-the-line conditions, he can be quite brutal.
Andrew Tye‘s acquisition should help Kings XI overcome their biggest struggle in 2017 – death bowling. They conceded 10.37 runs per over last season. Tye on the other hand had an economy rate of 7.7 – among fast bowlers who delivered at least 30 balls in the final stages of innings, he comes in at third, behind Adam Milne and Ashish Nehra. If the team was willing to shell out USD 1.1 million for him in the auction, you could probably take a punt on him in your XI.