Overseeing 12 changes to its captaincy in the past 12 years, Kings XI Punjab will hope to see their new but inexperienced skipper KL Rahul fit into the role from the word go in their bid to win maiden IPL title; especially after finishing outside top 4 in last year’s IPL.
Being a consistent performer in an inconsistent team, Rahul’s promotion to lead the franchise makes sense. However, the wicketkeeper-batsman, who in the recent past has made the Indian team keeping position in the limited-format his own, will be shouldering huge chunk of responsibility upfront as an opener.
Lacking middle-order mainstay
Lack of big names in the middle order means the franchise will be hoping that Rahul’s sole focus is on providing the team with a strong start on almost every occasion possible. This makes new coach Anil Kumble’s presence more important in the team as he will have to ensure that the new captain is not weathered out before the league reaches its culmination.
As Rahul’s opening partner, an ageing Chris Gayle is an option but the 40-year-old West Indian explosive batsman is past his prime and his hitting prowess has also come in question recently.
That makes Indian test opener Mayank Agarwal’s presence more integral for the side as he will have to play the sheet anchor role behind No.1 and 2 and open if Gayle fails to click. Interestingly, Mayank is also someone who has led KL Rahul as Karnataka’s Ranji captain and might play a key role in assisting the 28-year-old skipper.
The same is true for Karun Nair, who has also led KL Rahul for Karnataka in the past. The 28-year-old middle-order batsman now holds a senior position in KXIP and will have to find his lost form in order to succeed in the new role.
On a personal level, Karun will be hoping to get back into the Indian team again since his short stint earlier that included a triple ton against England. Also, uncertainty over domestic cricket and India A tour resumption due to the ensuing COVID-19 pandemic means this IPL could be the only platform for Nair to impress the BCCI selectors in recent future.
Eyes will also be on Mumbai batsman Sarfaraz Khan, who enjoyed a sturdy domestic season and will be hoping to retain that form at a bigger stage after lacking consistency with Royal Challengers Bangalore last season. Mandeep Singh, who played 13 games last season, will hope to carry his solid domestic form into the tournament.
Reliance on hit-or-miss finishers
Down the order, the onus of doing the hard-hitting in the death overs will fall on the likes of Glenn Maxwell (strike rate of 161.13 in IPL) and Nicholas Pooran (157.01), who carry the repute that is required in the trade.
However, consistency has always been an issue for both the pinch hitters which means more they fail to click the more misery will follow the franchise; something that often has been the case for KXIP in the past, who last reached IPL final in 2015.
As far as team’s bowling strength is concerned, the team lacks big names barring Mohammad Shami. The pacer is an interesting proposition for KXIP as in the recent past Shami has consistently added yorkers to his arsenal. This added ability has proven to be a boon in the death overs and KXIP would certainly like to reap benefits of it while not forgetting his ability to swing the ball both ways in the powerplays.
Left-handed pacer Sheldon Cottrell is expected to be his new-ball partner. The street-smart pacer possesses the quality to outfox the batsman with his variations and has been an effective bowler amid fielding restrictions.
Apart from them, Bengal’s young pacer Ishan Porel, who enjoyed a strong domestic season, would like to make a name for himself at a bigger stage.
However, in expected slow Dubai pitches, spinners would have a big role to play in this year’s IPL. KXIP would be certainly rubbing their palms here as likes of Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Ravi Bishnoi could really be the x-factors.
‘Mystery spinner’ Mujeeb endured an injury-hit last season would be egging on to prove his worth in the cash-rich league. India under-19’s right-arm wrist spinner Ravi, on the other hand, is an unknown quantity and could turn out to be a go-to strike option for the side. But first, the young spinner must see out competition from domestic stalwarts Krishnappa Gowtham and Murugan Ashwin.
Predicted XI: KL Rahul, Chris Gayle, Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair, Glenn Maxwell, Nicholas Pooran, Mandeep Singh, Krishnappa Gowtham, Sheldon Cottrell, Mohammad Shami and Ishan Porel
Verdict: Presence of inconsistent players and lack of Indian star players could be the bane of KXIP and the team will be relying heavily on KL Rahul and Shami to take them home. Battle to play-offs will be easier said than done for the side which has been perennial underachievers for the title-less Kings XI.