IPL 2023 | Punjab Kings - Aiming beyond playoffs

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Punjab Kings’ excruciating pain to wait for the IPL trophy was further aggravated last season as they ended up in the sixth position in the points table. The franchise has thus addressed the issues and tried to eliminate them with the purchases of Sam Curran and Sikander Raza at the auction table.

There are only a handful of franchises amongst the current 10-team pool in the IPL that have never won an IPL title. Punjab Kings are one of the unfortunate teams to not lift the silverware despite being runner-up once in 2014. To sum up the story of Punjab Kings throughout the 15 seasons, they have come agonisingly close to a playoff finish but have faltered in crucial games very often. They were the semi-finalists in 2009 but it took them five more years to achieve something significant - a spot in the grand finale. However, after that, they have been continuously striving to make it to the playoffs, and to change their fate, the team decided to bring a paradigm shift in their mindset while batting last season. 

The 2022 season saw an exhibition of brutal hitting from Punjab Kings’ batters. Keeping the scoreboard lightning quick was the mantra of the team and it worked on some occasions. However,  the approach also misfired in a few games. In the earlier seasons, there wasn’t an instance when more than two batters had played at least nine innings throughout the season and registered a strike rate of more than 150. The team’s main batters from the past included Shaun Marsh, Hashim Amhla, and KL Rahul who believed on building their innings. Glenn Maxwell was one of the few who played with unreal aggression for the side and also played a lead role in the team making it to the final of the IPL 2014.  

However, the batting unit adopted a cracking approach to aim for the boundary lines more often in 2022. There were three batters who played at least nine innings and registered a 150-plus strike rate last season and it was the first such instance in the franchise’s history. Liam Livingstone smashed 437 runs from 14 innings at a strike rate of 182.08, Jitesh Sharma tallied 234 runs from 10 innings at a strike rate of 163.63 and Bhanuka Rajapaksa blasted the opposition bowlers with a strike rate of 159.68 from 11 innings. More than their journey in the IPL, PBKS going hung-ho with the willow in the hand was the most discussed point amongst the cricket circles. 

Boxes ticked by franchise

The aggressive approach of the Punjab Kings' batters paid dividends to a major extent making the team score the third-highest average total of 167.36, placing them only behind Rajasthan Royals and Lucknow Super Giants. Shikhar Dhawan and Livingstone were brilliant for the team, scoring 460 and 437 runs respectively at an average of 38.33 and 36.41. These two made them a strong batting unit and the latter went through his best IPL season ever. Despite a lot of hype around him in 2019 and 2021, he never grabbed the limelight but 2022 was his breakthrough season, establishing his stature as a fearsome batter in T20 cricket. 

The explosive nature of the batting unit paid rich dividends for the franchise in the powerplay as they were the team to score the most average runs in the powerplay. Livingstone was consistent and ferocious at the same time, notching 70 runs from 33 balls with a superhuman strike rate of 212.12. Rajapaksa perfectly carried his role striking at 193.10 while Bairstow gathered 181 runs from nine innings at 170.75 in the first six overs. 

Although PBKS doesn’t rank in the top five teams who took the most wickets, they have been pretty successful in restricting the opposition and are placed third in the list of squads who have conceded the minimum number of runs in the season. Two of the frontline bowlers, Arshdeep Singh and Rahul Chahar,  had an impressive economy of 7.70 and 7.71 respectively. Also, Kagiso Rabada and Livingstone registered an economy below nine. The bowling unit also flourished in one more area. They were placed second in the list of teams who have taken the most wickets in powerplay at a rate of 1.64 wickets per innings. Rabada took ten wickets in the powerplay while Arshdeep bowled with an economy of 7.67 to exert pressure on the opposition batters and it opened up opportunities to take wickets for others. 

Red flags for PBKS in the IPL 2022

Adopting the aggressive template always includes a threat that the team can lose wickets in an attempt to steer the scoreboard. PBKS suffered that as they became the side to lose the second-highest number of wickets in the tournament with a count of 7.07 wickets per innings on average. 

The franchise raced with the willow through the powerplay overs but lost most of the ground at the back end. Finishing became an issue for the team, and they were the franchise to score the least number of runs in the death overs. Shahrukh Khan was the main finisher but he failed to play a pivotal role in PBKS’ ultra-aggressive approach. Shahrukh scored only 41 runs from 33 balls in the slog overs with a poor strike rate of 124.24. Jitesh Sharma was impressive as he mustered 83 runs from 41 balls but he lacked support from other lower-order batters like Odean Smith or Rishi Dhawan as none of them had a strike rate more than 150 and they failed to produce a collective performance as a result.  

Overall, Punjab Kings’ campaign in the IPL 2022 was good but apart from their lacklustre batting in death, the lack of wicket-taking ability in the middle overs spoilt all hopes. PBKS picked 2.21 wickets per innings between overs 7 to 15 and that was the worst record amongst all the teams. Out of the five PBKS bowlers who bowled ten or more overs in the mentioned period, Rahul Chahar (8) was the sole bowler who picked more than five wickets. Also, Harpreet Brar (25.75) and Arshdeep Singh (24.33) were the only bowlers to have an average below 30.  Overall, the bowling unit failed in restricting the batters in the middle phase allowing the opposition to build a platform for a solid finish.

Plans at the auction table

A review of the PBKS’ campaign last season shows that they needed batting depth to overcome the struggle in the slog overs. Also, the bowling in the middle phase of the innings was a problem and a quality bowling option was to be acquired by the franchise at the auction table. Addressing the concerns they were facing, PBKS recruited English all-rounder Sam Curran for an expensive price tag of INR 18.5 Crores. Curran can add some finishing touches in the capacity of a batter and can also provide overs in the powerplay or death allowing the skipper the freedom to use Arshdeep or Rabada in the middle overs. 

A specialist bowler would have been more suitable to resolve the failure of taking wickets in the middle phase of the innings and PBKS hit that spot in the auction table with the purchase of Zimbabwean allrounder Sikander Raza for a value of INR 50 Lakhs. He also can add some batting depth to the roster and roll his arm in the middle phase of the innings. Apart from these two big names in international cricket, PBKS went for Indian talents like Shivam Singh, Mohit Rathee, Harpreet Singh Bhatia, and Vidwath Kaverappa.

Implementing the Impact Player rule

With the impact player rule in place, the team composition becomes tricky, especially for PBKS, as they don’t have popular Indian faces in the ranks. Focusing on the team composition, they can stick to their all-out approach with Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Liam Livingstone, Sam Curran, and Kagiso Rabada in the playing XI. However, if they want to opt for a more solid overseas option in the top order and compromise with the strike rate, Matthew Short can replace Rajapaksa. Also, Rabada will not play the first match due to national duty and so Nathan Ellis will play in his place. 

Another move they can work out is to open with Rajapaksa to utilise the powerplay and push Prabhsimran to the third spot. Now, coming to the impact player, there isn’t any clearcut contender from the bench. 

Here are the details of the newly introduced Impact Player rule.

They have a few Indian players who can be given opportunities on the bench. While batting first, the team can replace Prabhsimran with Raj Bawa or Vidwath Kaverappa in the second innings and vice-versa while bowling first. 

Prediction 

A batting unit that is capable of blowing away the opposition and a quality pace attack are the strong suits of the Punjab Franchise. They have batters to justify the attacking philosophy and the addition of Curran and Raza would also give some cover in the lower order. The pace trio of Rabada, Curran, and Arshdeep can work wonders on their day and so PBKS can rely on these two factors. 

However, they lack an anchor in the top four except for Shikhar Dhawan and so a lot will depend on the veteran. Also, there is no backup option for Rahul Chahar in the spin department and it can restrict PBKS from getting success on spin-friendly surfaces where they will need a couple of quality spinners in the lineup. 

Considering the overall strengths and shortcomings of the team, they might end up in the fourth position in the points table but get knocked out in the Eliminator. 

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