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Can Punjab Kings finally end their decade-long playoff drought?

article_imageIPL 2024 PREVIEW
Last updated on 16 Mar 2024 | 04:22 PM
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Can Punjab Kings finally end their decade-long playoff drought?

Same head coach. Same captain. Same core of players. But will the Kings’ fortunes this season be different?

IPL 2023 finish: 8th

New additions: Harshal Patel, Chris Woakes, Rilee Rossouw, Shashank Singh, Ashutosh Sharma, Vishwanath Singh, Tanay Thyagarajan, Prince Choudhary

The good news is that, last season, Punjab Kings finally managed to get out of a tox6ic relationship. After finishing sixth four seasons in a row (between 2018 and 2021), they finally did not finish sixth last time around. The bad news is that they went worse instead of going better: they ended up finishing eighth, just four points clear of bottom-placed Sunrisers Hyderabad. 

Historically, Punjab have been guilty of chopping and changing after every season but this time around, they’ve surprisingly opted to retain their core. They even made minimal investments at the auction table, uncharacteristically not going after the shiniest toy in the market. 

Same head coach. Same captain. Same core of players. But will the Kings’ fortunes be different?

What can win them the trophy?

Presence of match-winners throughout the XI 

Punjab don’t have a stacked, star-studded batting line-up like Mumbai. Likewise, they don’t have an enviable, well-rounded bowling line-up like Lucknow.

What they do have, however, is a multitude of match-winners —  not just in the starting XI but throughout the squad. 

In Shikhar Dhawan, Rilee Rossouw, Jonny Bairstow, Jitesh Sharma & Liam Livingstone, Punjab have as many as five batters capable of single-handedly winning a contest. Both Arshdeep Singh and Kagiso Rabada are capable of running through opponents on their day while Sam Curran is someone who produces moments of magic that turns around games. 

Harshal Patel might have fallen out of favor when it comes to the national side, but he’s another quality addition who falls under the ‘match-winner’ bracket.

Effectively, if Punjab are to win the IPL somehow, they’ll have to do it the Australia 2023 way — have one individual step up in every match and take the team all the way. 

What could cost them the title?

Lack of wickets from spinners

Last season, Punjab’s spinners took just 22 wickets, which was the fewest among all sides. They also registered both the worst average (40.00) and strike rate (27.8). 

One of the biggest reasons behind the same was lack of penetration from their lead spinner Rahul Chahar, who took just 8 wickets in 14 matches at an average of 48.13. 

Punjab could face the same issue this year if Chahar’s wicket-taking form doesn’t drastically improve. Harpreet Brar is the only other established spinner in the squad, but the problem is that Brar is a defensive spinner by nature — he is not someone that runs through opponents on a consistent basis.  

There is, of course, Sikandar Raza present in the squad but the Zimbabwean is unlikely to feature in the first XI regularly.

Chahar’s form is likely to severely influence Punjab’s season. 

Volatile nature of their batters

Last season, Punjab were monstrous boundary-hitters. They hit a boundary every 4.8 balls, which was only behind Mumbai Indians’ 4.6. 

However, at the same time, they kept losing wickets frequently. Punjab, in IPL 2023, lost a wicket every 17 balls, which was the second-worst in the league behind Delhi Capitals’ 15.9.

These two numbers highlight the volatile nature of their batting line-up. They have enough firepower to blast any bowling unit, but their batting is extremely hit and miss. 

Bairstow, Livingstone, Jitesh, Rossouw are all game-changers, but Punjab can’t afford for all these batters to collectively ‘miss’ in the same game —  something that happened a lot last season. 

Absence of proven Indian finishers/lower-order batters

Punjab released Shahrukh Khan ahead of the auction but did not rope in a reputed Indian lower-order batter. This has now left them in a slightly awkward position as they’ll have to rely on Liam Livingstone/Jitesh Sharma for finishing duties, when both would have been better off used as middle-overs enforcers. 

SRK’s release also means that Curran will have to step up with the bat big time. And that’s not great news for Punjab, as Curran averages just 17.65 across his last 27 T20 innings, at a SR of just 120.5.

Things to watch out for 

- Jonny Bairstow’s form: Bairstow missed IPL 2023 and averaged just 23.00 in the 2022 season

- How the Mullanpur Stadium, Punjab’s new home, plays out

- Can Prabhsimran build on his breakthrough IPL season in 2023?

- How Livingstone fares versus spin: last season, his SR of 95.38 vs spin was the worst among all Top 7 batters in the league

- Harshal Patel & how he goes in Punjab colours. In 22 T20s since 2023, Harshal has an E.R of 9.4 and has taken just 1.15 wickets per match

Probable XI

Shikhar Dhawan (capt), Prabhsimran Singh, Atharva Taide, Jonny Bairstow, Liam Livingstone, Jitesh Sharma (wk), Sam Curran, Harshal Patel, Kagiso Rabada, Arshdeep Singh, Rahul Chahar

Impact player: Harpreet Brar

Uncapped x-factor

Atharva Taide: the young left-hander, who had a promising IPL campaign in 2023, has grown from strength to strength since last season, smashing 302 runs at an average of 43.14 and a strike rate of 169.66 in the 2023 SMAT season. He could make a big difference at the top of the order for the Kings this season.

Fixtures till April 7

Punjab Kings vs Delhi Capitals (Home)

Royal Challengers Bangalore vs Punjab Kings (away)

Lucknow Super Giants vs Punjab Kings (away)

Gujarat Titans vs Punjab Kings (away)

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