The Kings XI Punjab have never won the IPL and this is not likely to change this season. Their purchases in the IPL Auction were bizarre and they named Glenn Maxwell as their official club captain. Maxwell has barely any captaincy experience, a strange choice given that the Kings XI Punjab have England captain Eoin Morgan and former West Indies leader Darren Sammy in their squad. This sums up the current situation in the Punjab camp and they are already on the back-foot heading into the tournament.
The Kings XI Punjab finished bottom last year, only managing eight points throughout the season. It was a woeful performance from them, routinely collapsing and capitulating. The team looked uncomfortable playing together, but their opening partnership of Murali Vijay and Hashim Amla did look strong. The statistics support this, as Vijay was the top-scorer for the Kings XI. His total of 453 runs was the eighth highest in the competition and he has shown this form on the international stage for India recently. Whereas their spinners have been more successful in the past, it was the seamers that carried them last season. Sandeep Sharma and Mohit Sharma took the bulk of Punjab’s wickets, sharing 28 between them. They were solid with the new ball and at the death, but were drastically let down in the middle overs. This is a major area they will need to address in the upcoming season.
Before the IPL Auction, the Kings XI Punjab released several big name players, such as Mitchell Johnson. This left a huge gap in their bowling department, which they desperately needed to fill. Instead, it appeared that their initial priority was to add more batsmen to their squad. In the first round of bidding they signed England captain Eoin Morgan, sold at his base price of 2 crore (the highest bracket). This seemed to be an unnecessary signing, as the Punjab side already had a solid core of overseas batsmen, consisting of Hashim Amla, Shaun Marsh, David Miller and Glenn Maxwell. Moreover, in the second round of bidding, they also snapped up New Zealand opener Martin Guptill. It is hard to understand why they needed to make such signings.
However, Punjab did manage to sign a few bowlers. New Zealand fast bowler Matt Henry was their only overseas specialist bowler they purchased, but they did also buy West Indian all-rounder Darren Sammy. While these two bowlers are both talented, they are not as intimidating as Mitchell Johnson and not as explosive. The Kings XI Punjab management also decided to turn to some domestic talent. Varun Aaron was the most experienced Indian fast bowler they signed, but they also bought some younger players. This included Thangarasu Natarajan and Rahul Tewatia. These players, despite their strengths, will probably not lift the Kings XI Punjab into the playoffs.
As mentioned earlier, the strength of Kings XI Punjab last season was primarily in their batting, specifically their opening partnership. For the first half of the season, Manan Vohra opened with Murali Vijay. Vohra started strongly, hitting two thirties in his first two innings. He followed this up with a man of the match performance as he hit 51 agains the Rising Pune Supergiants in Match 10. However, after that his season went downhill. After his first three knocks, he only scored forty runs in his next four innings. As a result, when Hashim Amla was drafted in to replace the injured Shaun Marsh, Amla replaced the out of form Vohra. Amla had a slow start, but soon found his form. For the second half of the season, Amla scored an impressive 157 runs in six innings.
However, there is also an outside chance that Glenn Maxwell could open the batting. For several years Maxwell has been a key member of Australia’s middle order, but he was given the opportunity to open in Australia’s tour of Sri Lanka. Maxwell made an instant impression, as he hit a record-breaking 145* in the Third T20I. With that in mind, Maxwell could be given a chance to open ahead of Hashim Amla.
If this is not the case, Maxwell will take a role in the middle order, alongside Wriddhiman Saha and David Miller. Saha, India’s number one Test wicketkeeper, has been in great form internationally, both with the bat and with the gloves. In the Third Test Match against Australia, Saha hit a magnificent 117, sharing in a 199-run stand with Cheteshwar Pujara. Towards the end of the 2016 IPL, Saha held the number three role, and despite batting low down the order for India, his current form could see him retain the position of number three this year. In equally impressive form is South African David Miller, who was retained once again by the Kings XI Punjab for this season. Miller is currently taking part in the Momentum One Day Cup, a domestic South African tournament, and has scored 303 runs in just five innings. As that tournament is finishing, Miller will soon be turning his sights onto the IPL and will be desperate to continue his form in India.
Bar the obvious absence of Mitchell Johnson, the Kings XI bowling attack remains relatively unchanged. Their opening pair of Sandeep Sharma and Mohit Sharma are set to lead the line again this year. Both players have had contrasting fortunes recently, with Mohit Sharma significantly outperforming Sandeep in the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy Season. Mohit, representing Haryana, took 27 wickets in the season at an average of around 22. On the other hand, Sandeep was less successful in the Ranji Trophy, but made the headlines in the Duleep Trophy playing for India Green. However, neither player’s spot in the side is secure, with several other Indian seamers pushing for contention. If either of them fail to deliver, it could be the case that new signing Varun Aaron is given an opportunity, or even Anureet Singh.
In terms of their overseas bowlers, it may be the case that Matt Henry doesn’t walk straight into the team. If the Kings XI Punjab play three overseas batsmen, it would only pave the way for one overseas all-rounder or bowler to feature. Therefore, to provide some extra depth to their batting line-up, Marcus Stoinis could be selected over Henry. Stoinis played a crucial role for the Kings XI last season, especially with the ball. While Henry is probably a better bowler, the advantage Stoinis’ batting brings could be enough to merit his selection into the side. Alternatively, but more unlikely, could be the inclusion of Darren Sammy in the playing XI. Sammy, who did captain the West Indies to the World T20 title, did remarkably little in the side. He batted low down the order and only contributed a few overs throughout the tournament. It would be surprising to see Sammy favoured over Stoinis, but the Kings XI selectors are known to be extremely unpredictable.
Heading into the season, the Kings XI Punjab spin attack is looking relatively strong. Axar Patel was the only player to take a hat-trick last season, but he struggled to find any real consistency. Some brilliant performances were followed up by some rather poor showings and this will be a key area he needs to address. A large part of the Kings XI Punjab campaign relies on him, as he will be bowling the bulk of the middle overs. Partnering him is likely to be Pardeep Sahu. The Haryana spinner first featured in the IPL with the Rajasthan Royals, but was signed by the Kings XI Punjab in 2016. He played five matches last season, taking three wickets. This was not quite a memorable start to his Punjab career, but he will have a valuable chance to make amends this season.
Compared to most other sides in the tournament, the Kings XI Punjab have one of the weakest squads. They will be heavily dependent on their batsmen once again and will hope that their bowlers can pull their weight. It will be extremely difficult for them to reach the play-offs and are likely to end up near the bottom of the table once again. The Kings XI Punjab fans better prepare themselves for another frustrating season.
- Murali Vijay
- Hashim Amla
- Wriddhiman Saha (wk)
- Glenn Maxwell (C)
- David Miller
- Gurkeerat Mann Singh
- Marcus Stoinis
- Axar Patel
- Mohit Sharma
- Pardeep Sahu
- Sandeep Sharma