Power in their bank, Punjab Kings eye play-offs; KKR turn to mental strength - GulfToday

Power in their bank, Punjab Kings eye play-offs; KKR turn to mental strength

Mohammed Shami

All eyes will be on pace bowler Mohammed Shami who was Punjab Kings’ most successful bowler last season. File

For the last six seasons, Punjab Kings (known as Kings XI Punjab till last year) have not made the play-offs even once, finishing eighth twice and seventh once. Last season, they had finished sixth. Although they were in contention for the play-offs, a couple of losses in the end, to Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings, saw them crash out.

A change of name could, however, might bring them some luck! Ahead of this season, the biggest challenge for the Punjab franchise was power-hitting in their batting line-up especially towards the end of an innings. While both skipper KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal did well last season and Chris Gayle also performed well to make their top-order very strong, their middle-order struggled.

The Mohali franchise has bought England’s world No. 1 T20 batsman Dawid Malan and also included Tamil Nadu wunderkind Shahrukh Khan who impressed in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 with his power-hitting.

They also bought Australia pace bowlers Jhye Richardson for a whopping Rs 14 crore and Riley Meredith for Rs 8 crore. Malan, Nicholas Pooran, Shahrukh Khan along with the top three, who were already there and mentioned above, make Punjab Kings’ batting line-up very formidable.

They have also bought all-rounder Moises Henriques, a white ball cricket specialist, who performed really well with the ball against India in the recent limited-overs series in Australia.

Their bowling looks formidable even with Indian talent alone. Spinners Ravi Bishnoi and M Ashwin did a good job last season. The fact that they have Anil Kumble as director of cricket operations at the franchise shows the spinners have great guidance.

All eyes will be on pace bowler Mohammed Shami who was the franchise’s most successful bowler last season. The right-arm pace bowler is making a comeback after recovering from a fracture on his forearm that saw him miss the last three Tests in Australia as well as the entire series against England in India.

Another aspect to watch out for would be KL Rahul’s leadership. Punjab Kings play their first match of the season on April 12 against Rajasthan Royals.

KKR LOOKING FOR RIGHT FRAME OF MIND: Kolkata Knight Riders ended up on the losing side of the scrap for the final playoff spot in the Indian Premier League last season due to their poor net run rate as compared to SunRisers Hyderabad (SRH) and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB).

All three teams finished on 14 points but while SRH and RCB had net run rates of +0.608 and -0.172 respectively, KKR ended the season with -0.214, thus finishing fifth.

One of the biggest factors affecting KKR last season was that their two West Indies stars -- Sunil Narine and Andre Russell -- had a poor season.

In ace Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, KKR seem to have found a potential replacement for Narine. Despite Russell’s downturn in form, KKR have enough firepower in the form of Dinesh Karthik and skipper Eoin Morgan.

Nitish Rana moved up into the opening position with Shubman Gill towards the end of the last season and he is expected to continue in that role this time too.

Mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy can make a daunting prospect for the opposition to navigate.

Australian speedster Pat Cummins can be expected to be an automatic choice in the playing XI along with promising Indian youngster Prasidh Krishna.

A fully fit Russell is a valuable fast bowling option, as he has often shown in the previous seasons. As KKR’s season moves towards Mumbai and Bengaluru, New Zealand quick Lockie Ferguson’s express pace could come into play.

“We have a very balanced side. I think we need to ensure that every player is in the right frame of mind through the tournament to be able to perform. Prasidh, especially, has been doing well in the international arena now. I feel it was quite important for him to go on to the big stage as this will give him a lot of confidence,” said Abhishek Nayar, the assistant coach of KKR.

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