The calm before the Livingstone storm

Liam

Aryan Surana
Punjab Kings had been here before. Their PowerPlay was replete with fireworks courtesy of Jonny Bairstow but a three-over lull after the 8th over had given Royal Challengers Bangalore a toe in the door. Bhanuka Rajapaksa had top-edged a googly in a bid to adhere to the franchise's gung-ho style.

It was a juncture Punjab had often found themselves at in IPL 2022, with a dry patch leaving their swashbucklers in a dilemma; whether to keep going after the bowlers or take a step back to rebuild the innings? They have chosen the latter more often than not, putting up five totals in excess of 180 as a result. However, by laying down such a blueprint Punjab Kings had signed up for the whole package. They'd also scored 151 or less on four occasions until the onset of May.

The high-risk high-reward approach got them off to a flier again on Friday night in Mumbai, with Bairstow at the front and center of the blitz as he dismissed Josh Hazlewood's hard lengths from his presence. He assailed the shorter leg-side boundary to not only hit his fastest fifty in IPL history but also guide Punjab to 83/1 – the best PowerPlay score of the season. So far so good, but now there was familiar trouble brewing as Shahbaz Ahmed slipped in a wide darter to remove dangerman Bairstow for 66 off 29 balls.

It was the classic what-to-do territory. Liam Livingstone, the new man in, had to decide between keeping the foot on the gas or playing himself in prior to the definite explosion. In what was a significant departure from Punjab's mantra hitherto, Livingstone took the safer route to ensure the platform provided by Bairstow doesn't go to waste. He respected the strike bowler, Wanindu Hasaranga, and Shahbaz to work his way to a run-a-ball 14 before flexing his muscles to attain the first of his four sixes.

"It was a chance for myself to get in and assess the conditions a little bit longer than usual. It was nice to knock it around for a little bit before setting a platform to get at the end,' Livingstone said in the post-match presentation.

Typecasted as a biffer, he duly showed his range after being afforded the space to get his eye in. While Harshal Patel's slower one was flayed along the turf through covers, Shahbaz became too predictable with his fast wide lines and was at the receiving end of Livingstone's improvisation in the form of a reverse sweep. He was bound to shift the radar on the stumps and the Englishman was well aware of the course correction about to transpire, running at him to launch a six over long-on. Shahbaz, whose figures read 13/1 after 2 overs, was capping off his quota with an unenviable economy of ten.

While Livingstone lost his finishing partner Jitesh Sharma to Hasaranga, who returned 2-15 amid the mayhem to join Yuzvendra Chahal at the top of the wicket charts with 23 scalps in 13 games, the time was ripe for him to do what he does best. And Josh Hazlewood proved to be easy fodder after Bairstow upset his rhythm upfront with those demoralizing swipes over cow corner. Livingstone belted him for two fours and two sixes in a 24-run over that made it Hazlewood's poorest outing of his IPL career.

Livingstone and Bairstow peeled off 11 sixes between them. But skipper Mayank Agarwal was more impressed by the former's application at the crease when the couple of wickets against the run of play threatened to coerce Punjab into slogging their way out of trouble. ''We were brilliant with the bat. Wicket was holding up a bit. The way Jonny (Bairstow) and Livi (Livingstone) batted, was amazing. We haven't changed a lot to be honest, just about understanding few situations, understanding the wicket. Have to be adaptable and flexible which we have been, which is nice,'' Mayank reflected.

Punjab Kings have all the firepower in the world, but it would be imprudent to say it's all they need to rack up the numbers. Sometimes, they'll be better off dialling down a gear as per the situation's demand. For, a setback is nothing but a launchpad for a comeback.