It has not even been six months since KL Rahul-led Kings XI Punjab finished sixth in the 2020 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and maintained their track record of a bottom-four finish in the competition. They have ‘achieved’ this for six years at a stretch now. However, heading into the IPL 14, a lot seems to have changed for this franchise, at least externally.
Kings XI are now known as Punjab Kings. The team even has a new logo. However, they need to do a lot more than cosmetic corrections should they want their fortunes to turn in their favour.
However, the Punjab Kings management have taken a couple of steps towards that. First, they let go, Sheldon Cottrell, Mujeeb Zadran, Hardus Viljoen, Jimmy Neesham, Krishnappa Gowtham, Karun Nair, Jagadeesha Suchith, and Tejinder Singh Dhillon during the off season. At the auctions, they replaced them with Jhye Richardson, Dawid Malan, Riley Meredith, Moises Henriques, Fabian Allen, Shahrukh Khan, Jalaj Saxena, Utkarsh Singh, and Saurabh Kumar.
The Punjab management spent INR 22 crores for the Australian pace duo of Richardson and Meredith. The idea was to improve their bowling at the death. Henriques and Allen, the all-rounders, bring in much-needed balance. Alongside these new recruits, the bowling department already has the likes of Mohammad Shami, Arshdeep Singh, Ravi Bishnoi, and M Ashwin, all of whom impressed in IPL 2020.
The Punjab bowling attack looks more balanced this year. Rahul will have plenty of quality options to choose from – other than a dependable off-spinner.
Meanwhile, their batting core has more or less remained intact. The few notable additions this year are Malan, the top-ranked T20I batsman in the world, and Shahrukh, the uncapped hard-hitting Tamil Nadu batter, who attracted eyeballs with his power-hitting in recent domestic games.
Nevertheless, with the likes of Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Chris Gayle, and Nicholas Pooran, the Punjab batting line-up looks to-heavy. The middle-order, on the other hand, does not ooze such confidence. Malan may plug this hole, but accommodating him in the first-choice XI will be a tough ask for the think-tank. They will probably count on Indian options like Mandeep Singh, Sarfaraz Khan, Deepak Hooda, and Shahrukh.
Furthermore, Punjab’s fortunes in this year’s IPL will depend a lot on Rahul’s approach at the top. Rahul won the Orange Cap last year, with 670 runs, but he batted with a strike rate of 129. The slow start often puts additional pressure on their middle-0rder. On a few occasions, the likes of Pooran and Gayle bailed them out with power-hitting, but Punjab often struggled in the second half of their innings.
However, batting coach Wasim Jaffer has assured that Rahul will be far aggressive this time. They can even contemplate starting the innings with the Rahul-Gayle pair and put the experience of Agarwal in the middle-order.
Punjab will open their campaign in the IPL 14 against Rajasthan Royals on 12 April in Mumbai.
Punjab Kings Squad for IPL 2021:
KL Rahul (c & wk), Nicholas Pooran (wk), Prabhsimran Singh (wk), Mayank Agarwal, Chris Gayle, Mandeep Singh, Sarfaraz Khan, Deepak Hooda, Murugan Ashwin, Ravi Bishnoi, Harpreet Brar, Mohammed Shami, Arshdeep Singh, Ishan Porel, Darshan Nalkande, Chris Jordan, Dawid Malan, Jhye Richardson, Shahrukh Khan, Riley Meredith, Moises Henriques, Jalaj Saxena, Utkarsh Singh, Fabian Allen, Saurabh Kumar
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