Kings XI Punjab has finished more seasons in the cellar than in the playoffs. Take away the 2008 run to the semifinals or the narrow loss in the 2014 final, Punjab’s inconsistency remains its only consistent factor.
After leading the table with five wins in six league matches last year, Punjab dramatically crashed to seven defeats in the remaining eight and finished seventh.
This year, the team has a new coach in Mike Hesson. He was New Zealand’s coach when it reached the 2015 World Cup final. He replaces Brad Hodge. Also out is previous season’s mentor Virender Sehwag.
Under R. Ashwin, the team has a strong top-order, an uncertain middle-order, a fairly potent new-ball attack and variety among spinners.
Last year, whenever Chris Gayle and K. L. Rahul fired at the top, the team won almost every time during the first half. When they did not, Mayank Aggarwal, Karun Nair and Mandeep Singh could not rise to the challenge. England’s all-rounder Sam Curran (base price ₹2 crore) joins the squad after Punjab spent ₹7.20 crore to outbid Royal Challengers Bangalore at the auction. For the team to advance, Australia’s Moises Henriques and West Indies’ wicket-keeper Nicholas Pooran and the seasoned South African David Miller will have to prove their worth.
Should some World Cup-bound players leave the squad, Punjab could face problems in finding the right balance towards the business end of the league.
Mohammad Shami, Australia’s Andrew Tye and South Africa’s Hardus Viljoen are the new-ball options. The team expects a lot from these before the variety of spinners are thrown in.
Led by Ashwin, the spin department has Afghan off-spinner Mujeeb ur Rahman and M. Ashwin besides their ‘prized-possession’ Varun Chakaravarthy.
If Ashwin and Mujeeb can bowl even with the new ball, Varun is seen as the ‘mystery spinner’ capable of unleashing 6-7 varieties. After all, Punjab joined the bid for Varun (base prize of ₹20 lakh) at ₹3.60 crore and eventually outbid Mumbai Indians at a whopping Rs. 8.40 crore!
After his impressive showings in the Tamil Nadu Premier League, this architect-turned-cricketer served Tamil Nadu in Ranji Trophy and limited-over formats this season. Hesson and Ashwin will have to find a way to get the best out of the available resources. The bowling looks fairly good but the vulnerable middle-order is the main cause of worry for the team’s think-tank.
The team’s biggest worry will be the unavailability of quality replacements if like Gayle, Rahul, Shami, Curren, Miller etc are not available in the latter stage of the league or the playoffs.
Overall, a very tough, but not an improbable, task ahead of Punjab to reach the playoffs.