IPL 9 preview: With Sehwag as mentor, Miller as captain, can Kings XI Punjab finally overcome mediocrity?

Kings XI Punjab have played in every edition of the Indian Premier League. In all the eight seasons of the IPL, no team that has been there from the beginning has done worse. They have never won the tournament and have only made the knockout stages twice. In 2015 they finished dead last with just three wins in 14 matches. At one point during IPL 8 they lost seven matches in a row.

The only time they had a serious tilt at winning the whole thing was in 2014 when Glenn Maxwell’s outrageous form in the UAE leg of the tournament saw them through to the knockout rounds and some decent team performances propelled them to the final, but they lost to the Kolkata Knight Riders. They are perennial also-rans.

They are a bit like a little brother that you were forced to take with you when you were going out for the day. You didn’t really mind him being there but his presence doesn’t add anything to your enjoyment. He is a nice kid, you love him, but you wouldn’t choose to spend time with him unless you were forced to.

King's XI Punjab's Axar Patel during IPL 8. BCCI

King's XI Punjab's Axar Patel during IPL 8. BCCI

It says a lot about Kings XI Punjab that if you were to think of the team, you are more likely to remember their owner Preity Zinta celebrating than any real cricketing excellence. They will be hoping for a different season this year, but there is little to indicate that we will remember anything other than Ms Zinta celebrating come the end of IPL 9.

There have been some changes this year. Last year’s captain George Bailey was not retained and went unsold at the auction so he has been replaced as skipper by South African David Miller. As one of the few bright sparks last year it is understandable that Miller was given the leadership role, but he is untested as a captain.

Despite this inexperience the coach Sanjay Bangar has faith in the batsman to succeed in the role. "I have watched David grow as a player,” Bangar said when the decision was announced. “He has displayed outstanding batting abilities and a cool temperament in many high-pressure situations. I am confident in his potential to lead the boys this season."

Another experienced player that will be missing this year is Virender Sehwag, but he is not lost to Kings XI all together. He will be a “team mentor” throughout this season, but his explosive batting will be difficult to replace, even if he has struggled for consistency in the last few years, and his absence will leave a big gap at the top of the order. They will need big runs from top-order batsmen Murali Vijay and Shaun Marsh if they are to get off to a quick start.

While a quick start is great, the real quiz as far as Kings XI are concerned, will be a big finish. Miller will be vital to that, but no one will be more important than Maxwell. There is no player in the world that is reliant on a good run of form than Maxwell. If you were to draw a line graph of his career, it would have a very low baseline and Himalayan peaks emerging every now and then. His ability to string together a batch of ridiculously impressive innings is what makes him more exciting than any other batsman in the world today. If he matches the runs he had in 2014, Kings XI could make the knockout stages. Without his runs they will struggle to compete. He is that central to their chances.

The absence of Chennai Super Kings has meant that their best players were available for other teams to snap up, and Kings XI did just that by securing the services of Mohit Sharma for Rs 6.5 crore. But for injury, Mohit would have been a member of India’s World T20 squad and his performance with the new ball could make all the difference. Last year they had Anureet Singh and Sandeep Sharma as their Indian seamers, Mohit adds some extra class.

The recently retired Mitchell Johnson will bring some extra pace to the attack, but he hasn’t played a match since his last Test against New Zealand in November. How match ready he will be is a matter of some conjecture. Johnson’s remarkable 2013-14 started with his form for Kings XI at the IPL. He will be well rested and raring to go, come the first match against Gujarat Lions on 11 April.

This is an important season for Axar Patel who was left out of India’s World T20 squad. He is one of the more exciting young players that are on the fringes of India selection. He needs a big year with both runs and wickets if he is going to push Ravindra Jadeja for a spin bowling all-rounder spot in the national team. But, he has the talent to do so.

Just like that little brother that was an unwanted appendage, Kings XI Punjab have some admirable qualities. It is very difficult to have anything other than warm feelings towards them. When they grow up they will be a pleasure to spend time with enjoying a beer and sharing a life. For now they are still not quite there.

While other teams have found their identity, Kings XI are still searching. Royal Challengers Bangalore are all about batting. Kolkata Knight Riders are all about all-rounders. Mumbai Indians are all about star names. Even the newcomers Sunrisers Hyderabad have made themselves a bowling team. Kings XI are still the team that are owned by Preity Zinta and who don’t make the knockout stages.

Unless Axar Patel rips it up, unless Maxwell finds a purple patch, unless Mohit and Johnson take early wickets it will be the same again in 2016. That is a lot of things that need to come together for them to be in the mix, and if one of those pieces are missing it will be another long IPL for the team from Mohali.

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Updated Date: Apr 11, 2016 14:15:54 IST

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