It is a measure of how consistently good Gujarat Lions have been so far in this season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) that despite suffering a 23-run defeat to Kings XI Punjab at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium, they remain at the top of the standings.
Before Sunday’s match, Gujarat Lions and Kings XI Punjab were on diametrically opposite ends of the spectrum. Having won six of their seven matches, Gujarat were at the top of the table while Punjab, with one win from six games, were languishing at the bottom.
On Sunday, both teams’ fortunes changed as Axar Patel claimed a hat-trick, the 14th in the IPL and the first of this edition, to help his side claim victory at Rajkot.
In a bid to salvage their faltering season and take the pressure off their under-performing skipper David Miller, Punjab had handed over the reins of the team to Murali Vijay on Saturday. On Sunday, they tinkered around some more, making four changes to the team with Gurkeerat Singh, Marcus Stoinis, KC Cariappa and Wriddhiman Saha included in place of Manan Vohra, Mitchell Johnson, Pardeep Sahu and Nikhil Naik.
The onus was on a spinner like Cariappa, playing in his first match this season, to perform against the might of the Lions’ top order. However, it was to be Axar who changed the complexion of the game by ending the night with figures of 4-21. Three of those wickets --- Dwayne Smith, Dinesh Karthik and Dwayne Bravo --- came in one over, which left Lions tottering at 39/5 at the end of seven overs.
Astonishingly, Axar, who was on a hat-trick, was replaced in the next over itself but claimed it in the 11th over. Axar’s hat-trick though came with a generous slice of luck. Ravindra Jadeja, who was his hat-trick victim, had not nicked the ball but was given out.
Meanwhile, Punjab’s decision to relieve Miller of captaincy did bear some fruit with the South African scoring 31, his highest of the season. New skipper Vijay’s knock of 55 at the top of the innings is also his best of the season so far. Stoinis too chipped in with a handy knock of 27 runs in a match that will go some way in restoring the Kings’ confidence.
Lions, on the other hand, will take some heart from the fact that mystery spinner Shivil Kaushik was among the wickets, scalping three on a pitch which did not assist spinners too much.