With the player auction for the 2017 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) around the corner, it is time for the franchises to make important purchases that not only could render balance to their squad, but could even go on to play a crucial role in their team's fortunes in the main event that is to take place less than a couple of months later.
Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) enter the auction with the highest balance purse, which stands at Rs 23.35 crore. What makes their situation unique is the fact that they have the lowest purchase options, having retained 19 players from last year's squad, which leaves them with room for eight more, including four foreigners.
Which makes it likely for them to go for a few, albeit big purchases in the event that is to take place on 20 February in Bengaluru.
The Chandigarh-based franchise have had their moments of glory in the IPL, making it to the semi-final of the inaugural edition in 2008 under the captaincy of Yuvraj Singh. With leading names such as Brett Lee, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, etc in their ranks the side went on to finish second on the points table, before suffering a humiliating loss to Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in last-four stage.
Their highlight in the history of the league would be the 2014 edition. Not only did they top the points table at the end of the group stage, but they went on to make their only appearance in the final, with special knocks by Kolkata Knight Riders' (KKR) Manish Pandey and Piyush Chawla proving to be the difference between them and the winner's trophy.
George Bailey's brand of captaincy was hailed as yet another tale of Australian leadership success in the IPL (with Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist leading their sides to victory in 2008 and 2009 respectively), and the presence of international stars such as Virender Sehwag, Mitchell Johnson, David Miller, as well as domestic stalwarts in Axar Patel, Sandeep Singh, Wriddhiman Saha, etc. propelled them all the way.
However, a couple of fifth-place finishes in other editions aside, KXIP have largely had the short end of the stick as far as their run in the glitzy cash-rich league is concerned, having been presented with the wooden spoon in the last two tournaments. The concept of minnows does not exactly apply to leagues such as these, but KXIP face the risk of being dealt with the same ignominy as some of the lower-ranked teams in international cricket.
Kings XI will not exactly start off as favourites in the upcoming tournament, and given they will be heading in with the squad that is more or less similar to the one that struggled last year, captain Murali Vijay and mentor Virender Sehwag have a tough task ahead as far as inspiring the team is concerned. While Vijay's captaincy certainly will be tested, a part of KXIP's fortunes will also depend on how smart they will be in terms of their purchases in the auction.
When KXIP released Mitchell Johnson in December last year, along with South Africans Kyle Abbott and Farhaan Behardien, they perhaps did not anticipate the kind of valuable performances that the Australian would dish out later in the Big Bash League (BBL), in which his hauls in the semi-final (figures of 3/3 from four overs) and final would once again make him a hot prospect for T20 leagues.
The current roster is filled with pacers, mostly domestic finds such as the Sharmas — Mohit and Sandeep, Shardul Thakur (with a total experience of one game since 2014), Anureet Singh, etc. However, the absence of a star presence, especially one who can dry the runs up at the start of the innings as Johnson did in recent history, will be of great value to the team in their quest to change the tide of their fortunes.
The Australian pacer, as well as Indian speedster Ishant Sharma are two such prospects who the franchise owners could target, and their price tag of Rs 2 crore will not hurt them, given their fat purse. Should they fail to net these two, the likes of Trent Boult, Kagiso Rabada or even Kyle Abbott — who they could get back in their side using 'Right-to-Match' — could fall in their radar.
After the opening combination of Vijay and Manan Vohra did not quite work for them in the first half of the tournament last year, the team management opted to draft Hashim Amla into the side as the captain's opening partner. Even though the two are established openers in world cricket, their style is not quite what one would classify as 'explosive'. As unlikely as it may sound, investing in someone like a Jason Roy, Martin Guptill or even Afghan batting prodigy Mohammad Shahzad could come in handy for this side.
That probably would mean shuffling between Amla and whoever the new buy is throughout the tournament, as the captain's position cannot be touched. However, what harm would it do to the team if they get off to quicker starts?
As far as the team's spin department is concerned, they have it covered in all-rounders Glenn Maxwell, Axar Patel and Pardeep Sahu. If they are to opt for a frontline spinner, which they should, there are few prospects better than Imran Tahir, who ran through the New Zealand batting order with figures of 5/24, justifying his occupancy of the top slot in the ICC bowler's rankings in limited-overs formats. Then there's Brad Hogg, the Australian chinaman who simply refuses to quit cricket no matter his age.
If the four-foreigner rule permits, Shaun Marsh could find himself at No 3 on most occasions. Other than that, the middle-order looks pretty solid, packed with the likes of Maxwell, Miller, Wriddhiman Saha, Gurkeerat Singh Mann.
Getting their purchases right would be but one step forward towards glory. The bigger test lies ahead in the months of April and May. KXIP have long known what failure feels like, getting close to the trophy all but once. It's about time they rallied themselves to finally add some silverware in their cabinet.
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Updated Date: Feb 19, 2017 12:17:49 IST