Elegant Amla century not enough for Kings XI Punjab

Amla

In the last two days, we witnessed two special T20 innings from batsmen not regarded as archetypal T20 specialists. Kane Williamson made a commanding 89 off 51 balls in Sunrisers Hyderabad’s win against Delhi Daredevils on Wednesday. Hashim Amla struck a wonderful maiden T20 century (104* off 60 balls) on Thursday against Mumbai Indians.

It may, of course, be unfair to label Kane Williamson an un-archetypal T20 specialist. He is, after all, the third best T20 player in the world in the current rankings. Williamson is part of a new species of batsmen that has evolved to prosper in all forms of the game. Amla, on the other hand, is perhaps more like the old guard. He seems better suited to grinding out huge hundreds in the test match arena.

They share a classical technique that, amongst the innovation and brute force, looks to be unsuited to this modern game. Instead, they both tend to score boundaries through pure timing and placement. It’s refreshing that there’s still a place in T20 cricket for the grace and elegance of players like these.

Interestingly, both Amla and Williamson have come under criticism for their styles of the play. Before Wednesday’s match, Williamson had only hit one 6 in his IPL career. There were also calls from some quarters for Amla to be dropped, due to his slow accumulation of runs. Indeed, one poll suggested that 67% of fans doubted his ability to open the innings. Perhaps spurred on by this criticism, Amla (6 sixes) and Williamson (5 sixes) both took the aerial route to great success.

Such were the similarities in their styles that both players started slowly before targeting particular bowlers with big hitting. Williamson chose Angelo Matthews and Amit Mishra to attack, scoring 2 sixes off each. Impressively, Amla scored the majority of his boundaries off Lasith Malinga, who many regard as one of the best T20 bowlers of all time. Fittingly, both batsmen finished with a strike rate of around 170. In this year’s IPL, Amla is the third highest run scorer and has a strike rate of 141 (higher than David Warner). He deserves his place at the top of the order.

Jos Buttler hits form for Mumbai

However, whilst Williamson ended on the winning side, Amla’s Kings XI Punjab succumbed to a heavy defeat at the hands of Mumbai Indians. Jos Buttler and Parthiv Patel obliterated the Kings XI bowling during the powerplay. After Parthiv departed, the excellent Nitish Rana guided Mumbai to their target of 199 inside 16 overs. The 23-year-old Rana now sits atop the run scorers in this year’s IPL. Buttler, every bit a short format-specialist, was particularly impressive in his 77 from 37 balls. It was pleasing to see Buttler, and that strong bottom hand of his, back to form with the Champions Trophy approaching.

Kings XI might look back at the first 10 overs of their innings as the critical disparity between the two sides. At the halfway mark of the innings, Kings XI were 69-1 and hadn’t hit a boundary for 26 balls, which ultimately proved costly. In contrast, Mumbai Indians were 123-1, a monumental 54 runs ahead of their opposition at the same point.

Three not the magic number for Kings XI

This must surely be Saha’s last venture at number three in this year’s IPL. He has averaged 11.4 with a strike rate of 118.75 and didn’t contribute a boundary in 5 crucial overs here. A great deal of credit must go to Harbhajan Singh and Krunal Pandya for keeping it so tight during this period.

For Kings XI, the number 3 position has been an area of great concern. They have now experimented with Saha, Stoinis, Patel and Maxwell, who have collectively averaged 10 runs in 6 matches. Although he failed there in the previous match, there is a case for Maxwell batting at 3. He scored a brutal 40 off 18 in this match, and a player like him needs to maximize his time at the crease. His powerful hitting is a perfect foil for Amla’s finesse.

If the right balance is met alongside brute force and innovation, there is still a place for classiness in T20 cricket.