With five wins from as many matches in the ongoing edition of the Indian Premier League, Kings XI Punjab have taken top honours from the first leg of the tournament in UAE. The team has outplayed traditional giants, including Royal Challengers Bangalore on Monday, to show that they are firm favourites to win their maiden Indian Premier League title. (Match report - Kings XI Punjab beat Royal Challengers Bangalore)
Solid and all-round performances from Punjab have meant that the team is now the first to register eight consecutive victories in the Indian Premier League, overall. The team is also currently the only one with 10 points and will return home in high spirits and with players raring to fire in front of their home fans. And fans would be waiting with bated breath for their 'new-found' heroes.
While batting has been powered by Glenn Maxwell - the only batsman currently to have scored 300 runs (average of 60.00), bowlers like veteran Lakshmipathy Balaji and young Sandeep Sharma have impressed as well. Balaji has eight wickets and is the highest wicket-taker for his Kings XI, followed by Mitchell Johnson and Sandeep with seven wickets each till Tuesday's match (April 28).
Sandeep in particular, has been one of the best catalyst in Punjab's bowling combination. At just 20 years of age, the Patiala-born cricketer has fought brave battles against renowned batsmen. He now has 15 IPL wickets from seven overall games - the highest ever for any bowler from his first seven matches! Even against Royal Challengers Bangalore - a side which boasts of the best power-hitters -- Sandeep returned figures of 3 for 15 which included the prized wicket of Chris Gayle. (Related: Was Gayle not fit enough to play vs Punjab?)
Sandeep now has two man-of-the-match awards from the tournament but apart from his on-field exploits, it is his big heart that has earned him laurels from former cricketers. "He is a smart, thinking bowler," former India cricketer Venkatesh Prasad told NDTV on Tuesday. "He knows his limitations and (therefore) he knows what he has to do. You need a big heart to bowl up to the batsman. He has a superb line and a superb length."
As teams get set to pack their bags and return to India for the second leg of the tournament - starting May 2, Kings XI would back the likes of Sandeep, Balaji and Maxwell to continue with their ominous form and maintain unblemished IPL 2014 record.
(With inputs from Rajesh Kumar)