“No man ever steps in the same river twice,” ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus had said, implying that change is the only constant in life. This rings rather true in the case of the Punjab franchise, whose Indian Premier League journey has been in a constant state of flux – what with changing captains, coaches and team personnel. The latest change concerns their identity itself – King XI Punjab is now Punjab Kings. Will that align the stars this time for Punjab, whose one constant in the 13 editions of the IPL so far has been an empty trophy cabinet?
Speaking about stars, they released their biggest buy from the December 2019 auction – Glenn Maxwell (INR. 10.75 Crore) – and shelled out 3.25 Crores more to rope in Jhye Richardson. Sheldon Cottrell, their second highest buy in 2020, was also released and the Kings added the Australian paceman Riley Meredith. Meanwhile, in the all-rounders’ department, Punjab have opted for value additions such as Moises Henriques, Fabian Allen and Jalaj Saxena. Even the No. 1 ranked T20I batsman – Dawid Malan – has been added to the Punjab roster – with the squad boasting of variety.
Notwithstanding their finish last season, Kings were the chief entertainers in 2020 with plenty of close games. There were two Super Over finishes, including a double Super Over for the first time in T20 history. Although KL Rahul’s maiden captaincy stint and Anil Kumble’s first time as director of cricket didn’t exactly yield the returns that Punjab would have desired, the positives from what clicked for them last season and the infusion of new names will renew the team’s hopes of ending a barren run.
Where have they finished in this cycle?
2018: 7th || 2019: 6th || 2020: 6th
Last season bugbear
Despite their strong comeback, Punjab’s inability to close out games led to their early exit in 2020 – the team being let down by some of the big overseas names. With the pacers leaking runs in the death overs – Mohammed Shami, Arshdeep Singh, Chris Jordan and Cottrell, all having an economy in excess of 8.5 – and lack of runs from the middle order, especially Maxwell, it was more pressure on the top order. KL Rahul’s strike rate of 129.34 had to do with the lack of depth in the batting order, according to batting coach Wasim Jaffer.
Has it been fixed ahead of IPL 2021?
In their bid to right the wrongs from the previous year, the Kings have beefed up their pace department with Richardson and Meredith coming in. Richardson was the top wicket-taker in the BBL 2020-21 season, bagging 29 scalps at an average of 16.31 with an economy of 7.69. He’ll be the ideal partner for Shami – both at the start and the death – while Meredith’s ability to hit the hard lengths at a good pace will be a venue-centric option for Punjab.
In an interview with TOI, Jaffer had promised that “this time around, everyone will see an aggressive KL Rahul for sure.” It isn’t the case of Punjab adding more depth to their batting that frees up Rahul at the top. But the change in personnel and the nature of pitches where Punjab play the majority of their games, will give Rahul the liberty to play his shots.
League phase venue split
Mumbai (3) || Chennai (2) || Ahmedabad (4) || Bengaluru (5)
The eight matches combined at the start and finish for Punjab – at the batting-friendly Wankhede and Chinnaswamy – will define the makeup of their side, with more frontline pace options likely in the eleven. Depending on whether it’s the red soil or black soil, Ahmedabad is a toss up between pace and spin options while Punjab are likely to rope in most of their spin resources for the two matches in Chennai.
Despite his towering presence and familiarity with conditions, Chris Gayle may not be an automatic choice considering the balance of the side. Overseas pacers would be a better option on grounds with shorter boundaries, while Gayle’s ability to hit the spinners will prove useful on slower wickets.
Uncapped Player Watch
“We got Shahrukh!” said Preity Zinta with a wide smile during the IPL 2021 auction. While Shahrukh Khan, the actor and team owner, is a familiar face, Shahrukh, the batsman, has been making the right noises in the lead up to the tournament. “He reminds me, a bit like Pollard actually,” said Kumble in a Punjab Kings’ video post. The 25-year-old middle-order batsman from Tamil Nadu can pack a lot of punch with the bat, evidenced by his performance in the Syed Mushtaq Ali quarterfinal against Himachal Pradesh. Tamil Nadu were reduced to 66 for 5 in a chase of 136 but Shahrukh showed no nerves as he struck an unbeaten 40 off 19 balls. He was also in good touch during the Vijay Hazare Trophy, scoring 198 runs, including three fifties, at an average of 66.
Prabhsimran Singh and Ravi Bishnoi will be the other uncapped players to watch out for. Although Prabhsimran didn’t do much in the two IPL games he played last season, he fared well in the SMA competition recently. He was the third highest run-getter in the tournament with 341 runs at an average of 85.25 and a strike rate of 142.08, and his inclusion at the top of the order will free up some space for Punjab in the overseas department. Bishnoi, meanwhile, will be the lead spinner for the side this season and he’ll be hoping to build on his good show in the previous IPL in which he picked up 12 wickets and had an economy of 7.37.
Likely best XI
KL Rahul (c & wk), Mayank Agarwal, Prabhsimran Singh, Nicholas Pooran, Shahrukh Khan, Deepak Hooda, Fabian Allen, Jhye Richardson, Riley Meredith, Mohammed Shami, Ravi Bishnoi.