The CricViz preview of Kings XI Punjab.
Powerful, star-studded & dynamic batting
One of KXIP’s standout strengths is their batting. Chris Gayle may be past his best and might not even be in KXIP’s strongest team but as the greatest T20 batsman of all time he brings a wealth of experience and quality to the ranks. Glenn Maxwell and Nicholas Pooran are arguably two of the best four middle overs batsmen on the planet (alongside AB de Villiers and Rishabh Pant). Neither player has yet fully made their mark in the IPL with Maxwell flattering to deceive across a number of years in the league while Pooran, only 23 years of age, remains at the start of his career. Whether KXIP deploy both two in the middle order remains to be seen but one thing is certain they do not lack quality in the phase. This incredible overseas trio is supported by a cast of Indian batsmen, headed by the captain and one of India’s best and most dynamic batsmen: KL Rahul. It will be fascinating to see which Rahul steps up this year – whether it will be the explosive Rahul of 2018 or the more subdued Rahul of 2019. The pitches in the UAE and the responsibility of the captaincy may suggest the latter. KXIP’s batting is littered with aggressive hitters and Rahul may take it upon himself to anchor the innings. The only word of caution around KXIP’s batting is the fact that they are—like a few teams in the league—quite right-hander heavy. Gayle and Pooran are their only two frontline left-handed options. Last season Kings XI’s most notable strength with the bat was their middle overs batting – thanks largely to a slew of excellent players of spin. With Maxwell added to the squad this year this can be expected to be a strength once again.
Kings XI’s spin bowling is impressive. Not in the same way as their star-studded batting but in a less certain, yet similarly exciting way. KXIP have a group of young spinners with a lot to prove and very high ceilings. The attack is likely to be led by Mujeeb Ur Rahman who benefits from the move from India to the UAE by being elevated from a potential starter to a very likely one given the nature of pitches and also his excellent form in the CPL. Mujeeb is likely to take the new ball and operate as a run-saver in the first six overs. His 2019 IPL offers cause for concern but he has shown over a long period that he is a better bowler than that and will enjoy conditions this season. The rest of the spin attack is not elite but covers bases and has potential. One of the leg spinners Murugan Ashwin or Indian Under-19 star Ravi Bishnoi will likely fulfil the role of attacking spinner. Murugan has more experience at IPL level but Bishnoi is a very highly regarded talent who impressed in the Under-19 World Cup. The auxiliary spin options are provided by off spinners Maxwell, Gowtham and Hooda and left-arm spinner Jagadeesha Suchith.
Varied skill-sets among overseas quicks
Punjab have three overseas quicks who all cover different skill-sets. Sheldon Cottrell is strong in the Powerplay thanks to his full lengths and ability to move the ball in the air and off the pitch. Harduk Viljoen’s pace and aggressive lengths make him well suited to the enforcer role through the middle while Chris Jordan is considered a death specialist. Of course, this specialism is both a strength and a weakness. It allows Kings XI to plug specific gaps and bolster specific areas with each bowler but it is unlikely that more than one and certainly more than two of them ever play together. Ideally one bowler would cover a more than just one phase effectively.
Domestic pace bowling
Punjab’s domestic pace bowling is a concern. The Indian attack is led by Mohammad Shami whose reputation in longer forms of cricket perhaps clouds a poor record in the twenty over format. Shami has decent raw materials – good pace, a useful yorker and good control of line – but his T20 returns are yet to reflect that, Kings XI will look a lot stronger if Shami can find form this season. After Shami Ishan Porel (22 years old) is highly regarded bowler, particularly in the Powerplay and is the most likely reserve option. However, at just 22 years old he is very young and Darshan Nalkande and Arshdeep Singh – both 21 years old, don’t bring much experience either.
Domestic batting depth
Gayle, Rahul, Maxwell and Pooran is an outstanding quartet of batsmen but they will need support and while the rest of the batsmen have promise they have largely been inconsistent in the IPL. Kings XI will be looking to at least a couple of Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair, Sarfaraz Khan, Krishnappa Gowtham and Deepak Hooda to stand up and have good seasons. Sarfaraz is perhaps the most exciting of those players – he has struggled to be consistent in his IPL career but now at 22 years of age is beginning to mature and this could be a landmark campaign for the right-hander.
The lack of depth in Punjab’s pace attack means they may be forced into picking two overseas bowlers. Incidentally this may be their optimal combination but it’s always preferable to have at least two overseas combinations that you’re happy with and would force KXIP to leave out one of Gayle, Pooran or Maxwell to accommodate the extra bowler.
KL Rahul’s captaincy
Captaincy is a very difficult area of the game to measure and analyse. However, it is a job that often requires experience and that is something Punjab will be lacking with Rahul taking charge of the team for the first time this season, assuming control after Ravi Ashwin was traded to Delhi. How Rahul will be suited to the job remains to be seen, so too will the effect it will have on his batting. Rahul is one of the best T20 batsmen in India and it would be a shame if the captaincy took away from that.
- KL Rahul (RH & WK)
- Mayank Agarwal (RH)
- Karun Nair (RH)
- Nicholas Pooran (LH)
- Glenn Maxwell (RH & OB)
- Sarfaraz Khan (RH)
- Krishnappa Gowtham (RH & OB)
- Sheldon Cottrell (LFM)
- Mohammad Shami (RFM)
- Ravi Bishnoi (LS)
- Mujeeb Ur Rahman (OB)
As discussed above Kings XI’s dilemma around overseas balance is such an issue that it can be fairly categorised as a weakness. Gayle, Maxwell and Pooran all demand selection in their own ways but doing so means they can only pick one overseas bowler which exposes their weaker domestic bowling – particularly in the pace department. It will be a shame—and probably a mistake—if one of Maxwell or Pooran are sacrificed to solve this problem. It is harder to find good middle order batsmen than it is to find good openers and with Gayle’s recent form patchy, leaving the Jamaican left-hander out and backing an Indian top-order batsman instead may be the best option. Jimmy Neesham is the eighth overseas player who would offer cover in batting and bowling but not to the level of the specialist batsmen or bowlers respectively.
Which overseas quick?
Kings XI’s overseas pace bowlers all offer different things. This is both a strength and a weakness and makes selection difficult. Given the money spent on him Cottrell is surely the frontrunner for selection but his recent form—4 Powerplay wickets in 21 Powerplay overs this year—is poor and Punjab may actually find that with Mujeeb likely to operate in the Powerplay and Shami and Porel more at home up top rather than at the death that Jordan’s death over skills are more relevant. Jordan would also bring batting depth to Punjab who otherwise would see Cottrell carded to bat eight which is one or two spots too high.