The Punjab Kings (formerly known as Kings XI Punjab) had a rollercoaster season last year. After a dismal start that saw them lose six of their first seven matches, they bounced back by winning five games on the trot to finish sixth.
The Preity Zinta co-owned team’s best result came in 2014 when it finished runners-up, losing to Kolkata Knight Riders in the final. Ahead of the new season, the franchise has changed its name and also unveiled a brand-new logo.
The Punjab Kings released nine players this year, including star all-rounder Glenn Maxwell, pacer Sheldon Cottrell, Afghan spinner Mujeeb Zadran, South African pacer Hardus Viljoen, New Zealand all-rounder James Neesham and domestic players Krishnappa Gowtham, Karun Nair, Jagadeesha Suchith and Tejinder Singh Dhillon.
PBKS headed into the auction with the biggest prize purse. They purchased Australians Jhye Richardson, Moises Henriques and Riley Meredith, England’s Dawid Malan, West Indian Fabian Allen and four domestic players — Shahrukh Khan, Jalaj Saxena, Saurabh Kumar and Utkarsh Singh, solidifying their iffy middle order and death bowling.
Strength : The formidable batting line up is Punjab Kings’ biggest strength. They have a blistering top order, comprising last season’s Orange Cap winner KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, the evergreen Chris Gayle and swashbuckling wicketkeeper-batsman Nicholas Pooran.
While skipper Rahul and Agrawal made for one of the most successful opening pairs last season, Gayle, who hammered 288 runs in seven games at a strike rate of 137.14, and Pooran will once again add the firepower this year. Also, in the mix, this time is the number one T20 batsman Dawid Malan.
Amongst the domestic players, new-recruit Shah Rukh Khan is in sensational form while the likes of all-rounder Deepak Hooda, batsmen Sarfaraz Khan and Mandeep Singh can also strike the ball well. Punjab also has some quality overseas all-round options in Fabian Allen and Moises Henriques.
The franchise has invested heavily in boosting its pace battery. Alongside Mohammad Shami and England’s Chris Jordan they now have Australians Jhye Richardson and Riley Meredith, who is coming off a sensational Big Bash campaign.
Weakness : Punjab Kings’ blind spot is its spin bowling. Murugan Ashwin and young Ravi Bhishnoi, who impressed last season, will be under immense pressure to deliver. New-addition Jalaj Saxena is an experienced domestic campaigner and is heading to the tournament after a good Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy earlier this year. They also have spin-bowling all-rounder Fabian Allen, who could be battling for a spot in the playing XI. But the Punjab spin unit pales in comparison with the other sides.
Opportunity : One of only three teams to have never won an IPL trophy, the Kings are strong contenders this season. With their pace bowling and middle-order woes addressed, KL Rahul and company have a real shot at holding the elusive trophy.
Last year was Rahul’s rookie year as skipper, this season the stylish Karnataka batsman will have a point to prove with his captaincy.
The tournament will also provide Rahul and Shami with essential T20 match practice ahead of the T20 World Cup. While Rahul had struggled in the T20 series against England last month, Shami has been out of action since he picked up an injury in Australia.
Threats : Mohammad Shami’s, who fractured his wrist during the tour of Australia last year, fitness will be crucial. The senior India pacer has not played cricket in four months and Punjab will hope he performs well after recovery as an injury would be disastrous for their campaign.
Squad: KL Rahul (C&WK), Chris Gayle, Mayank Agarwal, Mandeep Singh, Nicholas Pooran, Ishan Porel, Sarfaraz Khan, Murugan Ashwin, Deepak Hooda, Mohammed Shami, Chris Jordan, Ravi Bishnoi, Harpreet Brar, Prabhsimran Singh, Darshan Nalkande, Arshdeep Singh, Dawid Malan, Jhye Richardson, Shahrukh Khan, Riley Meredith, Moises Henriques, Jalaj Saxena, Utkarsh Singh, Fabian Allen, Saurabh Kumar.