While several sides have had a starkly different season from their last outing in the Middle East, Punjab Kings have rather managed to keep their tally mirrored. Last season, Punjab finished sixth in the competition, with 12 points after their final game, against CSK. This season, Punjab have yet again finished with 12 points, in fact, it is their fourth season in a row with the same points.
It isn’t just the points table that fairly accurately represent how their season went. The tactics that were employed were similar, the approach, the weakness and more importantly, the result as well. The openers – KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal – yet again combined to score 49.62% of the franchise’s runs this season, the middle-order yet again floundered in a perfect pack.
Having secured an impressive shut-out in their opener against Rajasthan, Punjab lost their map and their way in India with only two more wins in the entire first leg. Three wins out of eight games, they were still in the race during the second leg. But with just one win from the first three in the Middle East, they were virtually knocked out of the competition.
Where they finished?
Hot, cold, warm and frozen – perfect description to sum up Punjab’s start-stop season. With just six wins in the entire competition despite having an impressive squad and a name change, the Kings endured a pain rather very well-known. Punjab did crash the tournament on a high, with an easy win over Chennai but after Kolkata’s win over Rajasthan, all their last hopes also crashed.
Punjab’s booming market at the top
An integral part of Punjab’s setup has been their openers, who have taken the burden load like a faithful donkey to its owner. So faithful, they have carried so much burden only to get the beating, in the end. For the second season in a row, Rahul ended up with the Orange cap, having scored the most runs in the league.
In the first half of the competition, the 29-year-old scored 331 runs for the side, averaging 66.2 and at a strike-rate of 136.2, which closely resembled the 2019 version of the Indian opener. In the Middle East, Rahul scored 295 runs, including the unbeaten 98, which really is what was the differentiating factor in their season, at a strike rate of 141.8.
While the franchise scored 2150 runs in the entire season, neither of Rahul or Mayank played the entire tournament. However, in the games that they played, Rahul was responsible for 31.5% of the runs scored by the franchise, 626 runs. On the other hand, Mayank scored 441 runs, accounting for 24% of the runs. Together, the pair scored 49.62% of the franchise’s runs this season.
Trust in the Indian pack
Punjab had a plethora of talented overseas bowlers but it was the Indian bowlers, who really put their hands up throughout this edition. During the first half of the season, Punjab had made the mistake of dropping the talented leg-spinner Ravi Bishnoi to the bench. When he played, his impact was vividly visible in the setup, becoming a chief-wrecker in the middle-overs, forming an impeccable partnership alongside Harpreet Brar, who made his debut during the season.
In just nine games this season, Bishnoi picked up 12 wickets, averaging just 19.2 while conceding runs at 6.4 RPO. Harpreet, on the other hand, who played second-fiddle, picked up five wickets but conceded runs at only 6 RPO, which put the pressure on the batting side. Punjab’s spin attack was the fifth-best in the league, bowling the second-most overs in the competition.
While spin was extremely crucial to Punjab’s season, it was their pacers – Arshdeep Singh and Mohammed Shami – who stood out the test of times. Punjab’s pacers ranked third in the league, with 54 wickets, conceding runs at just 8.1 RPO. In India, the pacers started on the wrong foot, being the third-worst side, with just 25 wickets, conceding 30.8 runs per every wicket.
When on the road, in the Middle East, Punjab’s pace attack was splendid, with 29 wickets, picking a wicket conceding just 18 runs. Both Shami and Arshdeep, after their last encounter, ranked fourth and fifth-best in the Middle East among pacers, with 22 wickets in between them. Shami had the best economy rate amongst the top five bowlers, at just 6.7 RPO.
Punjab’s shattering pain with foreign recruits
Familiarity is often a blessing but for Punjab, it was a bane, with their foreign recruits enduring yet another tough season. Nicholas Pooran, Chris Gayle, Nathan Ellis, Jhye Richardson, Adil Rashid, Aiden Markram, Moises Henriques and Fabian Allen all provided moments of sheer joy and pure class but more often than not, were underwhelming in the fast-paced nature of the competition.
Two of the biggest reasons Punjab were never competitive in the qualification race – lackluster middle-order and baffling tactics. Pooran, who endured his worst season in the IPL, scored a total of 85 runs in 12 games, averaging 7.72 and striking it at 111.84. In comparison, his IPL career average reads 22.44 and strike-rate, 154.98.
One of Punjab’s major buzz-killers was Pooran and somehow after being dropped in the first half of the season, the Windies southpaw earned himself yet another extended run in the second leg, costing them a chance? Gayle, on the other hand, who stood out in his newly assigned No.3 role in the 2020 IPL proved to be a disaster in the 2021 season, scoring 193 runs, at 21.44 and striking at 125.32.
Meredith picked up 4 wickets in five games, Richardson three wickets in as many games, Jordan two wickets in three games, which put all the more pressure on the Indian pack to hunt. Moises Henriques played five games, where his impact was quite visible, including his 3/12 against RCB.
Where the season was lost – Tactics and Middle-order
Inconsistency is quite a common theme associated with the Punjab Kings. But there is a certain amount of consistency in terms of how baffling their tactics could get in the competition. Barring the two games where they fielded the same lineup, Punjab were consistently on the wrong end of picking their side.
Two of the three sides at the top of the table have more or less consistently had the same team out on the park, unlike Punjab. In terms of pure tactics, Punjab were reluctant in using their resources at the best place possible. Earlier in the season, they dropped Ravi Bishnoi and later in the season, continued to pick Nicholas Pooran and Chris Gayle when their middle-order wasn’t living up to the bill.
Add the drop of Shahrukh Khan, with the backing of Deepak Hooda, Punjab completed an entire circle of just mistakes in the competition. But what remained baffling was how the franchise never tried to break away the opening pair to strengthen their middle-order. In what might seem an odd move, Punjab’s middle-order woes could have been solved by fielding the trio of Markram, Mayank and Shahrukh Khan in the middle-order.
But truly one of the biggest reasons for their sixth-place finish is how consistently inconsistent they were in terms of identifying the perfect playing combination throughout the tournament.
How would they turn up in 2022?
In MS Dhoni’s own words, “There are a lot of uncertainties coming up, two new teams are coming, we don't know what the retention rules are and so on.” That isn’t just restricted to the Chennai Super Kings side. Punjab Kings too would be affected by the dynamics of the IPL Auctions, with them at least having a dearth of Indian players to choose from, in terms of retention.
So, predicting how they would turn up in 2022 would be a bit premature, it is safe to assume that the franchise wouldn’t dare to break the duo of Rahul-Mayank even though it could have an adverse effect on their setup elsewhere.