Here we preview the team formerly known as Kings XI Punjab who have undergone a relatively radical overhaul during the IPL off-season not least of all by changing their name. Will such a ploy have the same impact that it did for Delhi who appear to be far more successful under the brand Capitals than they were Daredevils?
Beyond the rebranding, Punjab Kings were also pretty busy in the auction, trying to fill some of the more obvious gaps in a squad that that has failed to make the play-offs for 6 straight seasons. Could this be the year that they turn it around?
Punjab Kings Team Preview IPL 2021 – Batting
Generally speaking this was the stronger suit for Punjab Kings in IPL 2020 with their top 3 in particular all having pretty decent campaigns lead by captain and Orange Cap winner KL Rahul who finished the season with 670 runs.
Even so, there were calls from some quarters and on social media for KL Rahul to up the ante a little bit more often in his innings with the opener sometimes failing to maintain his strike rate once the field dropped back. While there is some truth in that criticism, for me, KL Rahul is not a power hitter so any criticism aimed at him being selfish or deliberately batting for his average are misguided, his role is in general is to bat through the innings and allow others to play the aggressive role around him. He did his part but others simply couldn’t follow.
Of course, the big concern for Punjab will be Rahul’s terrible run of form in the T20 series against England leading up to this IPL. He looks woefully short of form and now confidence and the pressure is definitely on him again to deliver for his IPL franchise in order to maintain his spot in the T20 World Cup squad.
Opening up with KL Rahul is another player looking to reestablish himself in the good books of the national selectors in Mayank Agarwal. It’s taken a while for 30-year-old to really find a game in T20 cricket but his efforts last season were impressive and like KL Rahul he too scored a centruy in IPL 2020 meaning that Kings XI were the only franchise to boast 2 players to reach the 100 mark in last year’s tournament. The concern again though is his form coming into the competition. He had a difficult time of it in Australia in both red and white ball cricket and hasn’t played any T20 since last year’s IPL.
Backing these home grown talents up is man who needs very little introduction. The Universe Boss is now the rip old age of 41 but on his day he is still a very dangerous hitter as evidenced by his 3 fifties from 7 innings in last year’s tournament. It’ll be interesting to see how and when Punjab Kings opt to use Gayle in this year’s tournament and as we’ll examine later it might well come down to playing conditions and a need to balance the team with other overseas options.
Top-order wise, Punjab Kings also brought in the number 1 ranked batsman in T20i cricket in Dawid Malan although it was telling that they faced zero competition for his signature at the auction and his low returns in the current T20 series at Ahmedabad confirm the suspicions of many that Malan is not well suited to these conditions.
However, a slightly better signing may have been made in the form of Moises Henriques who is not only a player who can perform multiple roles with the bat but also offers the franchise leadership and a winning mentality with his Sydney Sixers team having won back to back BBL tournaments. With some explosive young options still to come in the middle/lower order and a couple of young Aussies on their books, Henriques might play a useful role both in games as the glue in the middle order and off the pitch as a mentor for the likes of Jhye Richardson and Riley Meredith.
Speaking of those explosive young players, there aren’t many more dangerous hitters in the modern game than Nicolas Pooran. The 25-year-old is an incredible talent and on occassion has show his ability to change games single handedly. If you were going to be super critical, it would be that he hasn’t done that quite as consistantly as KXIP would have liked to date but if he can turn his 2 half centuries from last season into 4 and push above the 400 run mark then he would be firmly in the Pantheon of middle order batsmen at this level. The other burning question then is where do you play him? West Indies have experimented with Pooran as high as number 3 and there is always the simple concept in T20 cricket that you want your best players to face as many deliveries as possible. Of course, WI have the luxury of some other big hitters to come in at the back of the innings which is an area that Punjab Kings might feel exposed if they opted to bump Pooran up the order.
The Kings then have some exciting young local talent who to date haven’t quite managed to establish themselves at this level. Deepak Hooda for example at the age of 25 will be enjoying his 7th season in the IPL but he averages just 16 with the bat. There were signs that he might finely be able to find the kind of form that made him an U-19 sensation at the end of last season when he hit 62 off 30 balls against CSK. He is joined by the likes of Mandeep Singh who 5 years ago was part of India’s T20 squad but again has failed to really kick on and Sarfraz Khan who at the age of 23 has seen plenty of IPL action but failed to really nail down a spot in any side.
Getting at least one of these players who have all shown promise at youth level to mature into batsmen that several franchises have hoped they would become could well be the difference between success and failure for Punjab Kings who will otherwise be short on genuine quality in the middle/lower order.
Then we come to Shahrukh Khan. No not the famous Bollywood actor but a T20 finisher fresh from Tamil Nadu’s successful season in the Syed Musthaq Ali trophy. At 25 and with just 23 T20 innings to his name, it’s very easy to question why Punjab Kings paid the equivalent of about $750k USD for his services. At 6ft 4in Khan comes with the reputation of a man who can muscle a cricket ball a fair distance in the closing stages of a game. However, as we’ve seen with players like Shivam Dube in the past, the step up from T20 domestic cricket to IPL is a difficult one particularly when you’ve got a big price tag hanging around your neck.
Punjab Kings Team Preview IPL 2021 – Bowling
“Balance” and “options” are terms I’ve used with franchises who have had recent success in the IPL and who are likely to be challenging at the top of the table again this year. Unfortunately for Punjab Kings neither of these words can be used to descibe their squad for 2021 IPL.
They possess no real all-round options, with West Indies Fabien Allen hardly having the experience or record at this level to suggest he’s the man to bring about that balance. So desperate are Punjab Kings for someone to fill that role that they’ve even named Moises Henriques as an all-rounder, although I really can’t remember the last time I’ve seen him bowl. It’d be a huge risk to go into the IPL with the likes of Henriques, Hooda and Argawal making up a 5th bowler with the other option being Punjab Kings batting players like Jyhe Richardson and Chris Jordan as high as number 7. Both are dangerous players are the back end of an innings and if they were sat at 8 and 9 behind a genuine all-rounder at 7 then I’d have more confidence in this team, but sadly they are not.
Now that we’ve got the negativity about their chances in IPL 2021 out of the way, lets look at the positives that they achieved during the auction. Powerplay wickets and fast bowling options in general were a major issue for KXIP last season so the acquistion of Jyhe Richardson who in my mind has been the best bowler in the BBL for the last 2 season as well as Riley Meredith whose raw pace certainly adds an x-factor does suggest they have the firepower to win more games in 2021.
The 2 Aussies join Mohammed Shami who should be fit for the IPL, as well as young left-armer Arshdeep Singh and death over specialist Chris Jordan. Who they pick and how they manage the 4 overseas spots will be interesting to see but in regards depth of bowling options, things have certainly improved in the last 6 months.
Punjab Kings do certainly have some very good wrist spinning rescources available to them with Murugan Ashwin and 20-year-old Ravi Bisnoi in their ranks. The pair took 22 wickets between them in IPL 2020 and have both been in the wickets again during the recently cocluded domestic white ball season. As we’ll see below, both front line spinners might feel they’ve been given something of a bum draw in regards the venues they’re going to play at.
Punjab Kings Team Preview IPL 2021 – Venues
Punjab Kings will be shunted around a bit in the early stages of the tournament with 3 games in Mumbai and then 2 more in Chennai before they settle into 4 games at the new Ahmedabad venue and the final 5 in Bangalore.
The fact that they play last seasons 2 bottom sides in the form of Rajasthan Royals and CSK in their opening fixtures must give the Kings hope of being able to make a fast start in what is likely to be a very competitive tournament.
Playing at the Wankhede will give their new quick bowlers more favourable conditions to settle in. Meanwhile, KL Rahul will hope that a wicket that has seen him hit a truck load of runs in the past might be the perfect tonic to his poor form of late.
Unfortunately for Punjab Kings their next destination in Chennai is not a wicket that they’ve had much success on and without the proven big hitters in the middle to late order it might again prove a challenging track for them to make a score on. Bowling wise, while they have the spinning options to make an impact, neither Ashwin or Bisnoi have much experience here and indeed the top wicket taker at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium from within their current squad is Chris Gayle with 3 victims from his younger years as an occasional off-spinner.
It’s then onto a another venue where aggression has proved to be the best option. KL Rahul can’t be looking forward to another run of matches in Ahmedabad while in bowling terms the wicket has favoured those who bowl into the pitch and take pace off the ball which is not the modus operandi of any of the current Punjab squad.
Punjab Kings finish off with 5 matches in Bangalore, a pitch that Chris Gayle certainly knows well and has found memories of from his time with RCB. Run scoring and boundary hitting is generally easier at this ground but do PK have the firepower to out hit some of their opponents? From what we’ve considered previously it seems unlikely.