Everyone wants a fairy tale, which has KL Rahul performing to his best and helping the Kings XI Punjab under Anil Kumble’s leadership to lift that coveted trophy for the first time in the history of the tournament to keep Preity Zinta happy. But, that’s far from what they are achieving right now!
Right then, Kings XI Punjab shipped their skipper Ravichandran Ashwin in a trade deal to Delhi Capitals in a bizarre off-season for the franchise. This kick-started in what you can call a mini-revolution in the franchise’s history, with the entire setup changed to get that coveted trophy. Their leading run-scorer in the two seasons, KL Rahul, suddenly took over the leadership and in walked one of India’s legends Anil Kumble in what was a powerful combination destined to win the Indian Premier League for the first time. Let’s stop it right there and get back to reality, this was a team that was destined to do all of that but was not guaranteed, that’s where this story took a twist.
In their very first game, the Rahul-led KXIP side got themselves off to a brilliant start, with Sheldon Cottrell setting the stage on fire with his swing bowling while Mohammed Shami quietly went about his business. The team was very different from what Ashwin had assembled but at the same time, had all elements of adventure, the thrill that they had always possessed in the yesteryears. At the same time, it had an element of surprise and uncertainty to it - "Can they hold up the pressure of facing well-oiled units such as the Mumbai Indians, Sunrisers Hyderabad and the Chennai Super Kings?" was the question going around. But after reducing Delhi to 13/3, it is least expected that they would end up conceding over 150 runs on a sluggish wicket. A certain Chris Jordan’s over, which yielded 30 runs, drove DC to an above-par score.
Immediately, the death-over problem that they possessed was visible. But it was natural - none of the teams have all good days in the field. One week later, they find themselves seventh on the table, just ahead of Chennai Super Kings in a week of turbulent times for the side. They restricted Royal Challengers Bangalore to just 109 runs, they couldn’t defend 223, and, finally, it culminated in them not being able to chase 192 runs. In the span of one week, their tides turned and they were no longer even the dark horses - the cracks were evidently visible and the tapering on them didn’t quite live up to its expectations. Immediately, out of nowhere, Rahul’s captaincy fell down a floor or two, taking up the damage, injuring itself to the limit that people no longer looked at him as the perfect captain material.
All eyes immediately started scanning through their games to find all the fault while in reality it always lied in front of them. The fault was evident as was the solution but it was never paid the attention. That’s where the floor started to crumble and the ceiling started to creak, Punjab were no longer hyped by the fans after the loss versus Mumbai, where they were instead villified. What went wrong? How did they go from being favourites to be 3-1 after this stage to being 1-3 - where did it go all wrong?
The most obvious flaw is the over-reliance on the top-order, in particular KL Rahul’s newly-formed partnership with Mayank Agarwal. If you think that it is only because the two of them are in prime form, you are wrong, this problem has been existing ever since the last auction when Chris Gayle was paired up with KL at the top. It was a similar situation, Punjab had to go all-or-nothing in the first six overs, which shifted the entire pressure on the snail-like middle-order, which according to the myths is still taking off for a single. The runs in the middle order never arrived for the franchise, which to date has been haunting them, now more than ever of course! The Mayank-Rahul partnership has accounted for 72.06% of the runs Punjab have scored this season.
In the middle order, there is the familiar face of Karun Nair, who has been trusted more than he ideally should, at least in the statistical sense. While in the 2018 season he only played one game, he’s been given a long rope this season, having played four games already, scoring just a total of 16 runs. Now 15 of them came in one innings, which goes on to show how terrible he has been in the red and silver jersey. Coupled with the fact that Glenn Maxwell continues to be himself, Punjab have had troubles in the middle-order, which was rightly exposed in the game against Delhi and Mumbai. While the Delhi one was papered by Agarwal’s knock, versus Mumbai, there was nowhere they could possibly hide. Alongside Nair, they have a Safraz Khan who hasn’t offered anything yet for the team this season, which makes it almost entirely fragile.
You would think this is the best XI that they could pose right? No, that’s the issue with the franchise, their overreliance and trust on some of the players could even supersede CSK’s trust in Murali Vijay. There is a certain Mandeep Singh waiting in the bench, who has in the past bailed this side out of trouble. He almost averaged close to 42 last season but he still doesn't warrant a place in the playing XI. At the other end of the spectrum, lies a soul that should have found its place in the team after his strong show in domestic cricket, lies Ishan Porel. Punjab’s issues with Krishanppa Gowtham not being able to perform up to his standard coupled with their brittle foreign pace unit makes for a good recipe for disaster.
Bowling is a very big problem, so is batting, so how do you solve both? Simple, get rid of either Karun Nair or Sarfraz Khan, get in Mandeep Singh and take out a spinner and draft in Ishan Porel. Now you have just one issue, which stands right in front of you, Jimmy Neesham. He’s excellent when it comes to his Twitter game but his performance in the field hasn’t quite lived up to any expectations, or at least so much so that Rahul doesn’t trust him entirely. A simple solution is bringing in the Afghan spinner, Mujeeb ur Rahman, instead of Neesham, which would then build a perfect XI for all conditions. You have a quality pace attack, spearheaded by Shami, and a spin attack bolstered by the presence of Mujeeb. Otherwise, simply pair Chris Jordan up with Sheldon Cottrell for a good pace bowling unit, don’t be so judgy about Jordan after just one game.
What is glaring in the first place here is how Kings XI Punjab found themselves in such a position, where ideally they were the last team to be caught in such a place. Bad captaincy or bad tactics or just a combination of both has taken them to the bottom end of the table, scratching the barrel. With time ticking like a time bomb, changes are going to be mandatory to save the Punjab-life, which at the moment looks pale and weak. That’s how friends, Punjab found themselves in a rather precarious situation, struggling at 1-3 wherein they could have just chilled and cruised to a 3-1 W/L record.