Kings XI Punjab were so clinical at the beginning of the season that they had won five of their first seven matches. They were chasing and defending successfully and even completed a chase of 125 in only 11.1 overs against Kolkata Knight Riders to go on top of the table.
Then they went into a week-long break at the end of April. On return, they faced Mumbai Indians, who were already on the verge of being knocked out. But Mumbai turned out to be a slightly different side that day in Indore, and Kings XI have not been the same side ever since. They have tumbled out of the top half to sixth place because they have won only a single match out of their last six.
The primary reason behind their slide is their dependence on individual performances. In the batting line-up, KL Rahul has led them almost single-handedly with his 652 runs, more than anyone else this season, scoring six fifties at a rapid strike-rate of 161. His opening partner Chris Gayle also showed sporadic form with a scintillating century and three half-centuries among his 368 runs, but he is more of a hit-or-miss batsman compared to the consistent Rahul.
The problems begin after them. It's almost as if there is no middle order. Domestic talents Yuvraj Singh, Mayank Agarwal and Karun Nair are posing issues for their own team than for the opponents with a drought of runs, and Aaron Finch and Marcus Stoinis are not the batsmen they have proven to be in T20s in the past.
In the bowling attack, too, they have had only two names to fall back on - Andrew Tye, the tournament's leading wicket-taker, and Mujeeb Ur Rahman. Tye has 24 wickets so far, Mujeeb 14, even though he missed their last two matches, and the rest have a combined tally of 33 wickets. The lack of depth in their bowling is exposed by the simple fact that Tye has taken three four-fors in their last four matches and Kings XI have lost all of them.
"[It] doesn't really matter if I take 4 for 16 or someone else takes 4 for 16. It means obviously someone else has let you down" Andrew Tye after the defeat to Mumbai
This weakness came to the fore in two of their last three games. Against Knight Riders, Mujeeb injured his hand, bowled only 2.2 overs and R Ashwin used five other bowlers, including himself, but Kings XI conceded 245 despite Tye's 4 for 41. Against Mumbai on Wednesday, Tye took three wickets in two overs to reduce them from 37 for 0 to 59 for 3 inside the Powerplay but the rest of the bowlers could not sustain the pressure and conceded a combined 16-0-165-4 with an economy rate of 10.3 per over.
"It's bitterly disappointing that we did not win against Mumbai tonight," a dejected Tye said at the press conference. "We figured 186 was probably about par score on that wicket. We had the firepower in our team to chase it down and we could not do it. [It] doesn't really matter if I take 4 for 16 or someone else takes 4 for 16. It means obviously someone else has let you down and it's not a whole team effort.
"That is something that we've struggled for a lot this IPL. We haven't had enough boys standing up other than KL with the bat or myself and Mujeeb with the ball. So yeah, fair credit to Mumbai. I personally feel they won the game with their fielding. In a close match like that, they made a couple of really good saves on the boundary, chased a couple of balls down and, you know, that makes a difference when you lose the match by about five runs.
"Sure, you can look at it and say we lost momentum after that break but, at the same time, we didn't have anyone else stand up. In the first few games we have KL, Gayle, Karun who'd scored half-centuries or a century. But if you look at it since the break, KL is the only batsman who's gone past 50. As good as our bowling attack is...we haven't been putting up complete performance as a team with both bat and the ball and that sums up why we probably haven't won games lately."
Placed sixth with 12 points along with Rajasthan Royals and Mumbai, but with the worst net-run rate among the three, Kings XI have to not only win their last match against Chennai Super Kings but also hope Mumbai and Royals lose the rest of their league games, and RCB lose to Sunrisers Hyderabad. Tye realised the poor situation his team was in, but did not know what to do to change their fortunes.
"It's really hard. It's up to individuals to fix it...being able to get out there and once they realise they're out there and the team needs him or they need something special from him. Just being able to not put too much pressure on themselves. I don't know...I just hope we're able to find a way and if it happens this year and we're lucky to make finals, that's great. But hopefully, moving forward we can address that issue and really be strong competitor in this competition in the next few years."