Shift in countries a welcome change as Punjab aim to do the unthinkable

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16 Sep 2021 | 03:53 AM
authorAnirudh Suresh

Shift in countries a welcome change as Punjab aim to do the unthinkable

A team that looked down and out in May, Punjab are beneficiaries of the extended break

The pandemic-inflicted suspension brought about an abrupt halt to what was turning out to be an enthralling season, but one team that would be grateful for the suspension is Punjab Kings. 

At the time of the shut down, the Kings were languishing at the sixth spot and had also lost their skipper for an indefinite period of time. Their new signings had failed to settle, the team looked too green and yet another season looked like it was slowly but steadily slipping out of their hands. An IPL 2020-esque turnaround seemed near-impossible. 

All that’s in the past now. The damage might have already been done, but the four-month-long break has provided the Kings with a chance to reset, rethink their strategy and start afresh. Their skipper is back and so should be their confidence, for they will be aware that this season is now anyone’s to take. 

Four months ago they were the side everyone wanted to face, now in the UAE lies an opportunity for the Kings to turn into the team that no one would fancy coming up against.

Strengths

A brutally honest assessment of Punjab’s first eight games will reveal that there were barely any outright ‘strengths’ that the side possessed. In IPL 2020, they proved to be one of the better batting sides, but that was not the case in the first half of IPL 2021. 

Their batting run rate of 7.9, for instance, turned out to be the second worst in the competition. This despite six of their eight games coming on good batting wickets. Their batting average wasn’t any better, either, with their 25.4 proving to be only the fifth best. Bowling has been Punjab’s Achilles Heel for years and that didn’t change too, with their average of 31.9 proving to be the worst amongst all teams.

That said, relatively speaking, Punjab did excel in some areas. One of them, unsurprisingly, was at the very top with the bat. Rahul and Mayank Agarwal did not take the competition by storm like they did in 2020, but they still put together 249 runs at an average of 41.5. A 53-run stand between the duo on a tough Chennai wicket earnt PBKS their second win of the season in the penultimate game before suspension.

Another area they excelled in was six-hitting. Punjab hit 57 sixes in the first-leg, the second most among all teams. Only Rajasthan and Chennai hit more sixes per game than them on average. A total of five PBKS batsmen hit more than 5 sixes in the first leg, so that should serve as an encouraging sign for the side as they move into the UAE leg. 


Positives with the ball were few and far between, but mature showings from their young spinners, particularly towards the latter stages of the first leg, was a silver lining. In the middle-overs (7-15), only the spinners of CSK and DC had a better ER than Punjab’s 7.2, while no team had a lower boundaries-conceded percentage in this phase than PBKS (40.62%).


Integral to this were the young duo of Ravi Bishnoi and Harpreet Brar, who had a combined economy rate of 6.26 in overs 7-15. Spinners will be expected to play a more defensive role in UAE, so this ‘strength’ could come in handy for the Rahul-led side in their quest to pull off the unthinkable. 

Threats

In what was really a forgettable first leg, there was plenty that did not click for Punjab. But if there was one thing that clearly hurt the side, it was the complete no-show of their middle-order, which collapsed for fun. In all but two matches, Punjab suffered near-catastrophic collapses that crippled the side instantaneously.


All batsmen barring the openers, Rahul and Agarwal, were culpable. Part of it was because their middle-order - which comprised the likes of Shahrukh Khan and Deepak Hooda - reeked of inexperience, but the underwhelming showing of key campaigners such as Nicholas Pooran and Chris Gayle proved to be calamitous.


In overs 7-15, Punjab’s middle-order batters (#3 to #7) perished once every 14.7 balls. No team lost middle-order wickets more frequently in this phase. The King’s middle-order also averaged just 17.8 in the first eight games, four fewer than the second worst side, KKR. 

The brittle nature of the middle-order also, in turn, ended up forcing the openers to be ultra conservative. In the first leg of IPL 2021, no team batted as slowly in the powerplay as PBKS, who were the only team to have a run rate below 7.00 (6.90) in the phase. 

Then there were their struggles with the ball. Punjab’s bowling average (31.9) and strike rate (23.2) were both the worst amongst all sides. They registered middling numbers in both the powerplay and the middle overs, while only KKR and DC fared worse at the death. They simply were not able to catch a breath whenever they had the ball in hand.

New additions

With Jhye Richardson, Riley Meredith and Dawid Malan all pulling out of the second half, Punjab have added three new faces to the team - Nathan Ellis, Adil Rashid and Aiden Markram. While the arrival of Markram could potentially provide more stability to the middle-order, Ellis’ signing might help the side fare better at the death with the ball. Across the past two BBL seasons, no bowler has been more successful at the death than Ellis. 

Rashid, meanwhile, provides them an ultra-attacking spin option with the ball. With both the incumbents - Bishnoi and Harpreet - defensive in nature, the Englishman could provide a much-needed different dimension to the Kings’ bowling attack. The challenge for PBKS will be to find a way to fit these players into the XI, for their overseas slots are already stacked.

How do they feel about the UAE? 

Despite not making the playoffs last season, Punjab should fancy playing in UAE once again. They had a forgettable start to IPL 2020, but it is worth remembering that, though they bowed out in the first round, PBKS won 5 of their last 7 matches in the season. The Middle-East should reignite some good memories for the likes of Rahul, Agarwal, Gayle, Pooran, Shami and Bishnoi, all of whom enjoyed excellent campaigns last time around. 

Qualification chances

14 proved to be the magic number for qualification in IPL 2020, but there are early indications that teams might need to get to 16 to be dead sure this time around. Should that be the case, the Kings would need to win 5 of their remaining 6 matches to stand a chance to progress to the playoffs. Our Criclytics Qualification Probability meter gives the Rahul-led side a mere 7% chance of progressing to the knockouts owing to their NRR being -0.368. They have their task cut out.

Best Possible XI

KL Rahul (c and wk), Mayank Agarwal, Chris Gayle, Deepak Hooda, Nicholas Pooran, Shahrukh Khan, Harpreet Brar, Chris Jordan, Adil Rashid, Mohammed Shami, Arshdeep Singh.

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Indian Premier League, 2021Punjab KingsKL RahulMayank AgarwalChris GayleNicholas PooranMohammed ShamiAdil RashidNathan EllisRavi Bishnoi

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