After two years of holding up the Indian Premier League table Kings XI decided they needed to change things up and try something from left field to reverse their fortunes. That mindset led the appointment of Australian all-rounder Glenn Maxwell as captain ahead of the 2017 IPL season, the tournament’s 10th edition.
The Kings XI management would have been hoping the unpredictable Victorian could bring his natural attacking flair and entertaining style to the leadership role and lead Kings XI to the playoffs with a fearless brand of cricket. Unfortunately for Punjab fans their side finished agonisingly short in fifth position after slumping to an embarrassing defeat in their must-win final league match against Rising Pune Supergiant. The humbling manner of the defeat, and the lack of leadership and fight shown by senior players was symptomatic of Kings XI’s season of inconsistency.
On paper the Kings XI squad looked to have several holes pre-tournament, and in the end these weaknesses were exposed and eventually cost them a playoff spot. Kings XI decided to load up their squad with overseas batsmen and rely on the local bowling talent to lead the attack. While this theory could have been seen as placing faith and backing the likes of the Sharmas; Ishant, Sandeep and Mohit, as well as Varun Aaron and youngster T Natarajan. In reality it was a massive oversight and team management falling for the lure of having a power packed international batting line-up.
The tactic may have worked if the overseas batsmen had stood up when the team needed them, but they did not and too much was left to a weak bowling line-up. In fairness to the batsmen, the likes of Ishant and Mohit, as well as Aaron have all played enough international cricket and should have done better. At the same time, Ishant is a proven failure in limited overs cricket and wasn’t even picked up at the auction, while Aaron appears likely to follow the same path as many a promising Indian fast bowler before him. After a few years around the national setup, the speedster still hasn’t improved on his accuracy and control and has been reduced to fodder for good batsmen.
With a noticeably weak bowling attack Kings XI needed leadership from their senior, established international stars, and they didn’t get it. Of all the overseas batsmen and all-rounders used this tournament; Maxwell, Hashim Amla, David Miller, Shaun Marsh, Marcus Stoinis, Martin Guptill and Eoin Morgan, only Amla can hold his head high. Amla’s emergence as a star of the IPL was one of the few highlights for Kings XI. The South African ace scored two brilliant centuries, and made a handful of other useful contributions. However in the games where he scored centuries the bowlers floundered under the pressure.
Amla led the way with 420 runs at a strike rate of 146, but lacked support from his overseas batting colleagues. David Miller had a poor tournament, scoring only 83 runs in five matches. Morgan, Marsh, and Guptill only fared marginally better. None, other than Amla, were able to deliver when the team demanded leadership.
The captain had a baffling tournament as well, his numbers, 310 runs at a strike rate of 173 and seven wickets with an economy of 6.57 are more than decent. However his reluctance to bowl himself, and more importantly his bewildering decision to constantly hide himself down the order reeked of a lack of leadership from the rookie captain.
When a side is struggling for consistency they need their leader to stand up and take responsibility, something Maxwell didn’t do. Perhaps he was trying to absolve himself of any responsibility, or perhaps he just thought he was best suited to finishing off the innings. Either way, it was the wrong decision. Maxwell should have batted in the top five, if not at three or four, and taken the game on for his side. Everyone knows he is capable of taking the game away from the opposition in the blink of an eye, but with a top score of 47, Maxwell’s contributions this tournament were more 'blink and you’ll miss it'. Quite often the captain performed a blazing cameo rather than a long innings of substance which his team required.
There is no doubt Kings XI got their squad composition and balance wrong, too much was left to a squad of local bowlers who other than Sandeep and all-rounder Axar Patel were not up to the mark. Mohit improved as the tournament progressed, but Punjab would have expected more from a senior bowler. Ishant wasn’t picked up at the auction, and his performances justified that with the big quick going wicketless in six matches and conceding almost ten runs an over. Youngster T Natarajan showed glimpses and could be one for the future, but he didn’t play enough games while Varun Aaron was perhaps the most disappointing bowler of the lot. Hopes would have been high that the express quick could cause some damage, instead he leaked runs at an alarming rate and still hasn’t got a grip on his control.
Despite the many failings for Kings XI season 2017 in the IPL wasn’t all doom and gloom for them. As Maxwell said, at least they didn’t finish last. Plus the performances of Amla, Axar and Sandeep will be heartening, particularly the way the two Indian youngsters stepped up and filled the void left by the senior players.
Axar played a handful of match saving innings with the bat, and looked far more comfortable at six or seven than he did when promoted up the order early in the tournament. He also chimed in with 15 handy wickets and was the pick of the spinners. Sandeep was his side’s leading wicket taker with 17, and took a tournament equal high of nine wickets in the powerplay. These two young stars are players Kings XI can base their future squads around.
In the end Kings XI will be disappointed to miss the playoffs, particularly after they resurrected their season with wins in four of their last five matches before the Pune debacle. Heading into the 2018 IPL season, the northern franchise needs to shelve it’s outdated squad selection method and invest in strong Indian talent and players who can lead from the front.