If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If it’s starting to break, don’t Punjab Kings it.
When Punjab lose, they change everything: their players and their roles every other game, their captains and coaches every other season, and, by the looks of it, their name every 13 years.
Think about it. Anil Kumble is their eighth head coach since 2011; KL Rahul is their 12th full-time captain. And that’s speaking about the changes they make between seasons.
Within seasons? That’s one wild ride, so strap in – we’re only going to go back one season (for the benefit of, you know, time), but it’s going to be tumultuous.
Going into their eighth match of IPL 2020, having lost six out of seven games till that point, Punjab had made 12 changes to their playing XI – nearly two changes per game. They only fielded an unchanged XI once, after their trouncing of Royal Challengers Bangalore in the second game of their campaign.
It’s not just that they made a big number of changes; let’s peek into the confusing web of combinations, and the perplexing lack of making their minds up.
Chris Jordan started the tournament, got dropped for the second match after getting a hammering, was back in the side for match number five, dropped for match number six, and back again for match seven. James Neesham replaced Jordan in the XI for the second game, was benched by game five, got his spot back for game 10, only to lose it for game 11, before regaining it for the must-win last game of the season. Murugan Ashwin, like Neesham, got his first look-in for the second match, but was out of the reckoning come match number four, and would only come back in match number eight.
Ashwin would play each of the games in the second-half of the league stage, Jordan all but one. The pair was a key contributor to Punjab’s resurgence in the tournament, as the team won five in a row to keep themselves alive till the final day.
That’s the problem, though: you’re unlikely to succeed in most tournaments if you take half your allotted season-time to figure out your ideal combination, least of all the IPL.
Change in name, change in game, didn’t we all hope? It could yet be – four matches is way too early to call any team’s IPL fortunes – but have Punjab learned from one of their more glaring issues from the last season (or the last several seasons)? Evidently not.
After going unchanged from game one to two, following the barest-of-bare wins to start the season against Rajasthan Royals, the first defeat brought the first shake-up: Jalaj Saxena replaced Ashwin after the spectacular batting collapse against Chennai Super Kings. Another defeat, coupled with a change in venue, brought about three changes for their latest bout against Sunrisers Hyderabad: Saxena went out, all of one game later, and so did Australian pace-bowling imports Jhye Richardson and Riley Meredith, and in came Moises Henriques, Fabian Allen and Punjab’s ultimate yo-yo… Ashwin.
Again, the issue isn’t the changes, per se – it’s the complete lack of cohesion in the team’s plans, going from one game to the other, and personnel switches of rather soft convenience.
What’s soft convenience, you ask? Think of it as the act of wearing a cap when walking outdoors under a torrential downpour, or, in more relatable terms, wearing a mask on your chin – it gives you a (false) sense that there’s something, but in reality, you’re only kidding yourself.
The most telling factor in picking Saxena ahead of Ashwin – whose humbling numbers were the product of two bad overs out of seven – was his batting potential, with Punjab realising through their capitulation against CSK that you couldn’t have Richardson and Ashwin batting at seven and eight. Saxena may have 14 FC hundreds, and three List-A tons too, but in 50 T20 innings, he has returned 5.24 runs per over and 13 runs per innings. What worlds were you going to change with that at number seven, at Wankhede?
Then, on Wednesday, they came to Chepauk: a venue where matches were being decided, almost exclusively, by either brilliant bowling units or the freak-shows that are AB de Villiers and Glenn Maxwell. Also, a venue where spin was essential.
What bowling options did PBKS enter their first Chepauk game of IPL 2021 with? Mohammed Shami, Arshdeep Singh, Murugan Ashwin… and Fabian Allen, with Moises Henriques and Deepak Hooda as the only back-ups.
Allen, on average, had bowled 13 balls per every T20 outing, and had 19 wickets. Hooda had been called to bowl 43 times in 123 T20s, delivering 13 balls, on average, when summoned, and had 15 wickets. Henriques, since October 2017, had bowled 16 overs in 43 T20 appearances.
Essentially, Punjab dropped three bowlers certain to deliver their entire quota of overs, added one replacement who could do the same, and two who could barely form one quota combined. That would seem unreasonable for a team with an excellent bowling attack; for one as inexperienced, and largely ineffective so far in the competition, as Punjab’s, it should have been unthinkable.
The upside to it, of course, was a prolonged batting order, with the destructive Allen (career scoring rate 9.45 per over) in at eight. The manner of their batting combustion – oh, the irony – made it all seem a lot sillier than it already was.
But how many times have you seen a panicking setup being a performing one? How much order can you expect in chaos?
It’s a tale as old as IPL time. The most successful teams are the most stable; think CSK, over the years, and MI, from 2013 onwards, or even SRH, for most of 2016-20. The most frequently faulting sides are the most fickle; think RCB, every other year, or Delhi, from 2012-18… or Punjab, all along.
They may have been inspired by their northern rivals in opting for the change in nomenclature, but there’s only so much that can be altered by changing names. It’s not so much about semantics, as it is about the antics.
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