Ed Hawkins dissects one of the tournament's top performers and can't understand why they're doing so well...
"Kings are the fourth most expensive in the death overs and in the middle overs they are joint worst (with Rajasthan Royals) for number of wickets taken in the middle part of an innings"
Kings XI Punjab could go top of the table with a victory over Mumbai Indians on Friday. Barring an extraordinary late collapse they have one foot, and several toes in the play-offs.
With players with such bombastic attitudes as Universe Boss Chris Gayle and Ravi Ashwin, once considered heir apparent to MS Dhoni as India's great talisman, there is no doubt that Kings XI are comfortable in their lofty position. To a revamped squad it matters not a jot that they have qualified only twice before.
The rest of us, however, may be feeling a little giddy at their ascent. That's not because of that record of abject failure in eight seasons out of ten. The truth is: no-one is quite sure how Kings are managing it.
What Kings seem to have done is taken the template for a successful T20 side, copied the world over from the Bangladesh Premier League to the T20 Blast - and ignored it. If they were to win a first IPL title they would surely go down as possibly one of the most one-dimensional winners of a domestic title anywhere.
What they do brilliantly is bat. In the two opening positions. KL Rahul and Chris Gayle are a terrifyingly destructive duo who have shown no mercy in laying waste to bowling attacks in the powerplay overs. Their strike rates are phenomenal. Rahul at 171 and Gayle at 162.
Unsurprisingly their run rate in the powerplay is the highest of all the eight franchises. And between them Rahul and Gayle have scored 49 per cent of their team's runs. When these two are motoring Kings look unstoppable. The problem is, surely, that Twnety20 matches are, potentially, 40 overs long not six.
Can't bowl, can't field
And outside of those six overs there are holes in the Kings make-up which, one would have thought, would have been exposed by now. They haven't because, by and large, the standard of bowling, and therefore nous, this year has been shockingly low. It's not even been a contest between brawn and brain because brain has forgotten its tactics book and gone back to the hotel to get it.
When you start to unpick this Kings XI team you begin to scratch your head. How can their run possibly continue?
After Rahul and Gayle comes very little. It is doing a disservice to every other middle-order in the tournament to claim Kings have one. They don't. Aaron Finch has 24 runs in five innings and Yuvraj Singh 40 in four while David Miller and Marcus Stoinis are not in the least reliable.
Their run rate in the death overs (16-20) when batting is 8.43. Only Sunrisers Hyderabad are slower with an extraordinarily pathetic 7.76. So if Rahul and Gayle do not manage one of their blistering starts, Kings XI are in awful trouble.
It is true that we have seen that this year. That happened against Sunrisers when Kings failed to chase down 133. Rahul and Gayle were kept relatively quiet and so Kings had nowhere to go.
With the ball they are hardly convincing. This despite having players of repute in Ashwin, AJ Tye and the emerging Mujeeb ur Rahmann. They are the fourth most expensive in the death overs and in the middle overs they are joint worst (with Rajasthan Royals) for number of wickets taken in the middle part of an innings.
Perhaps worst of all is their fielding. By calculating runs saved and subtracting them from runs conceded, Kings are -26 for the series. This puts them bottom of the pile by some distance with Chennai Super Kings at -11. These are the only two teams in the red. Kings have also dropped the most catches. They are holding only 69 per cent of chances.
Given the litany of problems with Kings two things should strike you. Firstly, the utterly bonkers decision to consistently rest Gayle. He has played in only four of their matches. Secondly, that this is a manifesto to consistently take on Kings, pretty much regardless of who they are playing.
Against Mumbai they are outsiders, suggesting that the market has sussed them. Ordinarily for a side which was eyeing top spot we would argue they were an outstanding bet at [2.08] to beat a team bottom of the table. But we can't do that.
Likewise the [5.6] for outright glory cannot be vouched for. Sure, favourites Chennai have their issues in the field and second-favourites Sunrisers bat as if it's a 50-over game but Kings shouldn't really be able to compete with either.
Ed Hawkins P-L
Based only on available prices. Does not include back-to-lay in-running match advice or commission rate. Figures 2013-2016 on 1pt level stakes. New points system (0.5pt-5) introduced for 2017. Includes Hawk-Eye stats column p-l