A day before Australia’s World Twenty20 2016 game against Pakistan in Mohali last month, Glenn Maxwell played Holi—the festival of colours—with some locals. The pictures went viral, but there weren’t many raised eyebrows as Maxwell is considered as much a local as any other Punjabi, thanks to the Indian Premier League.
It was in his maiden season with Kings XI Punjab in 2014, when he scored 552 runs at a strike-rate of 187.75 to end third on the batting charts and take his franchise to the final for the first time in seven editions, that Maxwell became a superstar. No one hit as many sixes as Maxwell—36—that year and he was all everybody could talk about. Expected to reproduce his magic in 2015, he was well below his best and admitted his motivation had dipped after a World Cup winning campaign with Australia . The fallout of that was Punjab finished at the bottom of the table.
Maxwell’s batting template has not changed much over the last two years, and his ability to change the course of a game in a short window once again holds the key to Punjab’s fortune in the 2016 IPL. Having not done much in the World T20, where Australia did not qualify for the semifinals, Maxwell will be doubly eager to taste success before the end of an extended Indian summer.
Aside from Maxwell, a lot of Punjab’s hopes hinge on the individual brilliance of David Miller, the newly appointed captain, and Shaun Marsh, the only constant in the team for nine seasons now and their highest run-getter. While Miller’s batting analogy of “if it’s in the V, it’s in the tree and if it’s in the arc, it’s out of the park” is now a part of the IPL folklore, Marsh is the franchise’s original wonder kid, having launched himself on the world stage during the inaugural IPL in 2008. The trio needs to fire in unison for the bowlers to have some cushioning.
Apart from the on field performance, Punjab will rely on the nous of a strong support staff consisting of Sanjay Bangar, Virender Sehwag, Joe Dawes and R Sridhar to keep the team match-ready.
Inconsistency as a unit has been Punjab’s biggest Achilles heel, and nowhere has it been more evident than at the top of the batting order. In their top 40 partnerships over nine seasons, only five were opening stands. Even when they had Sehwag or Adam Gilchrist, the lack of support from lesser-known Indian players from the other end put undue pressure on the middle order. The bowling unit too has been largely dependent on one or two performers every season. While 35 bowlers have taken 50 or more wickets in the history of the competition, Punjab has only one name—Piyush Chawla, who left the franchise after 2013—on the list. The inability to strike regularly has often allowed opposition batsmen to attack the weak links in the bowling attack, adding to their woes.
Barring the 2008 and 2014 editions, where Punjab made it to the semifinals and final respectively, there are hardly any team memories that stand out. The unit that they had in 2008 was one of the best in the circuit, and they played highly entertaining cricket. Once the dynamics of the IPL market became more complex, it was always going to be difficult for a low-budget franchise to sustain that momentum.
2016 auction action
Keen to improve their death bowling, Punjab spent Rs.6.5 crore to acquire the services of Mohit Sharma. They also bought Kyle Abbott, Marcus Stoinis and KC Cariappa, along with Farhaan Behardien. Among the lesser known players, they purchased Pardeep Sahu, Swapnil Singh and Armaan Jaffer for Rs.10 lakhs each. At the end of it, Punjab’s 22-member squad consisted of seven foreigners and they had spent Rs.10.55 crore on auction day.
Young player to watch out for
He may not have turned many heads during India’s tour of Australia earlier this year, but his ability to deliver in crunch situations has made Gurkeerat Singh a hot property in the domestic circuit. His hitting abilities will be something to watch out for as Punjab look to end their silverware drought.
Squad: David Miller (capt), Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Johnson, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), M Vijay, Axar Patel, Rishi Dhawan, Gurkeerat Singh, Kyle Abbott, Mohit Sharma, Sandeep Sharma, Manan Vohra, Anureet Singh, Shardul Thakur, Nikhil Naik, Swapnil Singh, KC Cariappa, Farhaan Behardien, Pardeep Sahu, Marcus Stoinis, Armaan Jaffer.
Sidhanta Patnaik is Senior Staff Writer at Wisden India. Mint is in content partnership with Wisden India for the Indian Premier League season.