A new captain, the old face of Glenn Maxwell and the IPL being staged in UAE - 2020 couldn’t be more 2014 for Kings XI Punjab, even if they tried. They are, for the first time in five years, relevant prior to the tournament but the question is: will we still take them seriously after 10 matchdays?
“Can we take you seriously? Should we take you seriously?” are questions that have been posed to the team by both fans and rivals for a good part of the last five IPL seasons. Truth be told, there is no definitive answer. To draw a nice parallel, for 12 seasons, Kings XI Punjab have been the Tottenham Hotspur of IPL. Do you take Tottenham Hotspur seriously? Decide for yourself. They are the architects of their own downfall; there is a reason why people tend to not take them seriously.
Last season, they finished 6th on the table with just 6 wins in 14 matches after winning 4 of their first 6 matches. That, incidentally, was an encore of their IPL 2018 season, where they finished 7th with 6 wins after winning 5 of their first 6 matches. In case the gist of KXIP’s tendencies is not clear yet, here it is: they love a good choke.
That said, if there’s one word you’ll never, ever associate with Punjab, it is boring. They make the fans’ money worth, and, on most occasions, they do it through their batting. Last season, for instance, they managed an average score of 173.5 runs per game, the second-best amongst all teams in the competition. This was enabled by their top-order of KL Rahul, Chris Gayle, and Mayank Agarwal, who accounted for a staggering 58.25% of the team’s total runs.
Their destroyer-in-chief and best batsman from last season was, almost rightfully and poetically, the captain of this season, Rahul, who scored 593 runs and ended IPL 2019 as the tournament’s second-highest run-getter. With 490 runs, his partner Gayle didn’t fare too badly either. Together, the two ensured that KXIP not only got off to a good start but a safe one too - they lost just 1.07 wickets on average in the powerplay while scoring 48.5 runs on average in the first six. They will look to do the same this season.
Rahul and Gayle often set up the platform for the middle order, who almost always failed to capitalize thanks to Miller and Pooran, who between them averaged 27.2 in 16 innings. Punjab wisely got rid of the main culprit, Miller, but they might have just solved a big problem with the purchase of Glenn Maxwell. The Aussie, who averages 43 in T20Is since 2018 and had a stellar BBL at the start of the year, will provide some much-needed cutting-edge to the middle order, something, dare I say, they’ve missed since 2014. This is also probably the best Maxwell has batted since 2014.
Maxwell’s addition means that he and Pooran, along with the rejuvenated Sarfaraz Khan, can take care of the middle order and allow the finishing to new recruits Krishnappa Gowtham and Jimmy Neesham. 2019 saw KXIP score just 45.5 runs on average in the last five, and that, honestly, is a figure underwhelming for a powerhouse like them. One thing is guaranteed, though - more sixes. In 2019, they hit 110 sixes, the second-most by any team in the competition, but with the addition of Maxwell, Gowtham, Neesham and the evolution of Pooran, expect this figure to skyrocket.
But Punjab will be hoping for the ball to go out of the park only when they’re batting. Last season, with the ball, they conceded 22 boundaries per match, the third-worst of all teams, and leaked a Brobdingnagian 178.78 runs per game on average, the worst figure in the entire competition.
A lot of this can be attributed to their inability to take wickets up-front - they took 0.85 wickets on average in the powerplay, least amongst all 8 teams - due to which they leaked a flabbergasting 56.21 runs on average in the powerplay, which was, again, the worst amongst all teams in the competition. Even for their highest wicket-taker, Shami, who took 19 wickets, IPL 2019 was a perennial struggle, as he leaked a less-than-ideal 8.68 runs an over.
That said, ahead of this season, on the pace front, they’ve done everything in their power to right the wrongs. They’ve added the star power of Sheldon Cottrell, a lethal weapon with the new ball, to skittle batsmen up-front, but more importantly, they’ve added Chris Jordan to make their pace unit dynamic. Jordan is the king of death overs and his coup will help them improve their numbers at the death from last season (ER of 9.92) which was far from ideal.
Pacers (45) took almost twice as many wickets as spinners (24) last season, but with the addition of x-factor Ravi Bishnoi and, of course, K Gowtham, those numbers might very well be level this season. With one of the Ashwin twins, Ravi, no more a part of the side, Punjab will need the other Ravi - Bishnoi - and Mujeeb to take their game to the next level. With his performance in CPL 2020, Mujeeb, at least, has shown that he is ready for the challenge.
So, can we finally take Punjab seriously? Well, the jury is still out, only time will tell if they can do a Liverpool.
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