In the 12-year history of the Indian Premier League, there have existed two teams with the word ‘Kings’ as part of their name; the fortunes of these two teams couldn’t be more in contrast.
While the Chennai Super Kings hold the enviable record of having gone past the league stage every single time they’ve been part of the IPL, the Kings XI Punjab have the worst track record of reaching the knockouts/playoffs among the ever-presents – having done so only twice in 12 campaigns. Where the Super Kings have built their brand on virtues of loyalty and continuity, the Kings XI have been, arguably, the franchise most prone to chopping and changing.
Perhaps those two statements are more closely linked than KXIP care to see it? Maybe, in this whirlwind caravan that is the IPL, success is intricately linked to continuity? Well – Punjab clearly don’t think so.
Five years ago, KXIP enjoyed their best-ever IPL season – coming within a Manish Pandey special of winning the 2014 final. In the seasons since, they have finished eighth, eighth, fifth, seventh and sixth, respectively.
In the last two editions, though – the two seasons since the full-fledged overhaul heading into IPL 2018 – they showed far greater potential than in recent times, before undoing their good work from the opening weeks of the season with an abysmal latter-half of the campaign.
The man leading them through IPL 2018 and 2019 is now gone, with Ravichandran Ashwin having been traded to Delhi Capitals in the transfer window. That means the Kings XI will continue their dubious distinction of not having had any stretch of more than two seasons without changing their captain.
Transfers: In – K Gowtham (INR 6.2 crore from RR), J Suchith (INR 20 lakh from DC); Out – R Ashwin (INR 7.6 crore to DC)
Players Released: Varun Chakravarthy, Andrew Tye, Sam Curran, Prabhsimran Singh, David Miller, Moises Henriques, Agnivesh Ayachi
How they shape up: INR 42.70 crore available, nine slots to fill (four overseas)
It tells you something about their skewed money-spend last year that despite releasing only seven players, Kings XI find themselves holding more than half their total allocated purse of INR 85 crore – INR 42.70 crore, at least seven crore more than any other team going into the 19 December auction.
They’ve certainly kept greater faith in the bulk of their squad than they did a year earlier; KXIP had retained only nine players on their roster going into the 2019 auction. But when it comes to cost corrections, no franchise had more to do in this latest window than Punjab.
Because last December, they shelled out INR 8.4 crore to turn Varun Chakravarthy from an architect who bowled a bit of mystery spin in the TNPL to a million-dollar-man. They also loosened their purse strings to the tune of INR 4.8 crore to buy unheralded teenager Prabhsimran Singh.
Chakravarthy’s maiden IPL over went for 25, and an injury meant that would be his sole outing of the season; Prabhsimran, too, got just the one game, where he scored 16 off 17 balls.
KXIP were also made to feel the pinch of overseas acquisitions not living up to billing. In nine appearances, Sam Curran, the most expensive overseas buy at the 2019 auction (INR 7.2 crore) returned 95 runs with the bat and 10 wickets at an economy touching 10-per-over with the ball. Andrew Tye, who had fetched the same price-tag a year earlier, went from the high of winning the Purple Cap in 2018 to the low of three wickets from six games at an economy of 10.59.
The toughest decision taken, however, was the call to part ways with David Miller – the only player, apart from Virat Kohli, to have played more than six seasons of the IPL without once seeing a change in his team. The runs had begun to dry for the South African, at least compared to his own riches for Punjab in the past; Miller’s strike rate fell from over 140 in his first seven seasons for KXIP to under 130 in 2019, and he only crossed 30 thrice in 10 innings.
Given the lack of experience in the middle of their batting order, it could yet be a decision Pujab are left to rue. But with INR 42.70 crore in their tank, and only a maximum of nine slots to fill, they could do some serious damage on auction day.
Major holes to plug
Where are the all-rounders?
The Punjab faithful can be glad their side could strike a deal with Rajasthan Royals to bring in Krishnappa Gowtham – because by releasing Curran and Ashwin, the total number of all-rounders left in their squad was a round zero.
Gowtham, now a Karnataka and India A regular (across formats), has a steady T20 career repertoire, evidenced by a strike rate of 162.81 and an economy rate of 7.60 over 56 games. But can a 31-year-old with only 22 IPL games – with a total yield of 144 runs and 12 wickets – handle the entire all-round weight of a squad? No, he can’t.
So be it Indian or overseas, young or old, bat-heavy or bowl-heavy, the Kings XI will have to be turbo-charged at the mention of any all-rounder from the auction hat.
And what about fast bowlers?
So KXIP have one Mohammed Shami in their ranks – he who has 70 international wickets from just 26 matches this year – but let’s dig a little deeper? His career T20 economy is 8.36; in 51 IPL games, that figure swells further to 8.99 – and he strikes at the rate of less than a wicket per game.
Shami aside, the only pacer with decent top-flight experience in the Kings XI squad is Hardus Viljoen – who’s now more famous for being the whip of Faf du Plessis’ sense of humour than for his fast-bowling stocks. The 30-year-old leaked 9.65 per over for his seven wickets in the six games he played last season.
Viljoen and Shami aside, the only other fast-bowling option in the Punjab roster at the moment is Arshdeep Singh, a 20-year-old left-armer whose three matches in IPL 2019 yielded three wickets at an economy of 10.90.
Long story short: The fast-bowling armour for the Kings XI is, well, not much of an armour.
Other gaps to fill
As mentioned earlier, by losing R Ashwin, Punjab will continue a not-so-proud streak of not having seen any captain last more than two years at a stretch in the 12 years of the IPL. Who takes over?
The ‘buzz’ suggests KL Rahul could be in line for the job. But coming off the roller-coaster 2019 that he’s endured, is Rahul the best bet? Even from an individual point of view, would the 27-year-old want the extra responsibility – and attention – at a time when he’s trying to make a case for himself in each format of international cricket?
Look beyond Rahul, and the chest looks quite bare. The latter argument used for Rahul applies for Mayank Agarwal too. And Chris Gayle? Considering he’s not certain to play an entire season in the first place, that wouldn’t be the wisest option either.
So the Kings will, certainly, require a marshall.
The three names mentioned above, while maybe not the best fit for captaincy at present, do provide Punjab a rather healthy top-order. For the number four spot, KXIP have three domestic performers to pick or rotate from in Karun Nair, Mandeep Singh and Sarfaraz Khan. But who does the finishing for them?
At present, they can only realistically look towards Nicolas Pooran, and that’s not a bad place to begin. Don’t go just by his 18-ball 38* against India at Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday – he also has a death overs strike rate of 208.8 in 2019, a figure bettered only by AB de Villiers and Andre Russell (minimum 100 balls faced).
Even counting potential runs from Gowtham at number seven/eight, Punjab do still require at least one more power-hitter of proper repute. Maybe the solution is linked with their all-rounder crisis…
On the radar: A possible KXIP wish-list
So, let’s look at some of the areas we just identified that need plugging for KXIP: A quality finisher, an all-rounder, a captain – how about going back to someone who has played each of those roles for them until quite recently?
In 2014 – their best-ever season in the IPL, ending in a runner-up finish – Glenn Maxwell was the MVP of the tournament, smashing 552 runs at a strike rate of 187.75. In 2017 – when they ended fifth, their best finish since 2014 – Maxwell was captain.
A T20 career strike rate of 154.95 inflates to 165.37 over his 57 matches for Kings XI Punjab. With the ball, too, his economy rate of 8.70 for the franchise reads quite favourably when you take into account the dew that is commonplace in evening games at Mohali.
Maxwell, with his mad-max capabilities, and now a recharged mind following a brief break from the game, is a sure-shot contender for a huge pay-day at this auction. Expect the Kings XI to be frontrunners in the push to make the Australian their own again.
Even if one feels the weight of captaincy might be a bit much for Maxwell as he makes his way back into top-level cricket, Punjab have available at this auction another former player of theirs – and while his KXIP past may not be too impressive, there can be little doubting the captaincy credentials of the man who finally ended England’s World Cup drought just five months ago.
Morgan’s four IPL games for Kings XI had nothing in it to recall fondly – four games brought with them a top score of 26, while the strike rate was a quite ordinary 104.83. His overall IPL record – 854 runs from 40 innings at a strike rate of 121.13 – is nothing to write home about either.
But sample the 33-year-old’s performances in T20s this year: 609 runs in 18 innings, average 43.50, strike rate 170.59. Add to that his wealth of experience, both in the format and as captain.
Morgan had said he was surprised to receive an INR 2 crore bid from Punjab ahead of IPL 2017; there will be no surprises his former employers shell out the big bucks to have him back on their roster.
If Punjab wish to take the domestic route to fill the same middle-order/finisher gap in their squad, without necessarily having to dole out the big bucks, Rohan Kadam could be the way to go. The 25-year-old Karnataka batsman may have the small sample of only 20 T20 appearances to his name, but he’s caught the eye in his brief foray with the mighty impressive Karnataka unit.
Kadam averages only a shade below 50, while maintaining a healthy-enough strike rate of 130.37. Even more impressive is his conversion of eight 50+ scores from 19 innings, especially considering the domestic heavyweights he follows to the crease on a usual basis.
Quietly, he left his mark on Karnataka’s recent Syed Mushtaq Ali triumph – making a steady 35 in the final against Tamil Nadu (which they won by one run), and a flambuoyant 47-ball 71 in the last Super League tie against Mumbai (where a lesser total batting first might have resulted in Karnataka slipping below Mumbai on net run rate).
Arguably the overseas player with the greatest momentum coming into the latest IPL auction. After an injury-crippled start that ate into the first five years of his career, the last couple of years in the life of Pat Cummins have been nothing short of a dream.
The Aussie quick – ranked number one in Test cricket and number five in ODIs – has 91 wickets in 33 matches across formats in international cricket this year; next-best Mohammed Shami is miles away at 70 wickets. Even if you stretch the ambit to the last two years, Cummins leads the pack with 143 wickets in 47 games, well clear of Kagiso Rabada (131 wickets) despite playing seven fewer games in the same period.
While he doesn’t have the kind of skyrocketing T20 numbers that, say, a Mitchell Starc possesses, the happy times are beginning to rub off on Cummins in the shortest format too. A career economy of 7.72 betters to 6.67 if you consider matches played this year, with the average dropping from 24.46 to 18.18 and the strike rate improving from 19 to 16.4.
Given the serious lack of fast-bowling resources on their roster, and the availability of Australian players through the season, this seems set to be the year Cummins spirals upward in the IPL market.
Another option to address Punjab’s fast-bowling woes – and with better all-round potential. Chris Woakes hasn’t played any T20 cricket in 2019, but his stock as a limited overs performer has only risen.
His name wasn’t regaled as much as a Jofra Archer during England’s World Cup triumph, but he was an ever-present for Morgan’s men, with steady contributions all along, ending the campaign with 16 wickets in 11 games (only four fewer than Archer’s 20).
Woakes has also been around the IPL before, and while an overall economy of 9.24 doesn’t read too well, that figure is inflated by a tough 2018 season at Royal Challengers Bangalore – where the flat tracks, the small boundaries and the insipid fielding did little to aid his analysis. In 2017, however, the English all-rounder enjoyed a much better maiden IPL campaign with Kolkata Knight Riders, claiming 17 wickets from 13 games at an economy of 8.77.
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