Vijay had done an outstanding job last season, but since he isn’t available, the left-field option to hand Maxwell the reins seems a gamble worth taking. © BCCI

Vijay had done an outstanding job last season, but since he isn’t available, the left-field option to hand Maxwell the reins seems a gamble worth taking. © BCCI

Looking at the Kings XI Punjab squad for the Indian Premier League 2017, you would think they lacked neither pacers, nor ‘Sharmas’. Nor pacers named Sharma, for that matter, with both Mohit and Sandeep around. And yet, a day before the tournament’s opening match, they went ahead and signed up Ishant Sharma on Tuesday (April 4), bringing him in for the injured M Vijay. A fast bowler for an opening batsman seems like a strange move, and belies the good work the team actually did during the auctions.

Virender Sehwag, given a higher profile and more responsibility with the franchise, was a happy camper after the auction, and as he put it when speaking to Wisden India, “The only room for us is to go up, because we can’t go further down.” And Punjab have assembled what looks like a better rounded unit, one that they’ll need to work in cohesion to avoid a third successive year left holding the wooden spoon.

STRENGTHS
The core of the squad may have remained but a number of additions has meant there is a fresh look to the team. Giving Glenn Maxwell the captaincy could turn out to be a masterstroke. Vijay had done an outstanding job last season, but since he isn’t available, the left-field option to hand Maxwell the reins seems a gamble worth taking. It’s the kind of decision that you suspect has Sehwag’s imprint, with Maxwell very much in the same mould. With Martin Guptill, Hashim Amla and Eoin Morgan in the mix now, it could provide a much-needed option to get some solidity into an otherwise high-octane line-up. David Miller too seems to have regained the form he so completely lost last year.

Punjab's decision to buy Eoin Morgan and Martin Guptill to strengthen the top-order batting seem sound. © AFP

Punjab’s decision to buy Eoin Morgan and Martin Guptill to strengthen the top-order batting seem sound. © AFP

WEAKNESSES
Their bowling looks better than last year but as of now, there is no clear gun bowler whom Maxwell can bank on to deliver four high-quality overs in 10 matches out of 14. What the absence of such an option means is there is that much more pressure on the batsmen to put up above-par totals every time. There is the explosive quality to the batting unit that suggests they are definitely capable of doing that. But as they have shown, they can implode too – and if the batsmen don’t fire, you don’t see Punjab defending an average total.

PAST RECORD
Punjab’s best year by a distance was in 2014, when they topped the league stages and reached the final, only to lose a high-scoring thriller to Kolkata Knight Riders. They made the semifinals of the Champions League Twenty20 too that year, the last year the tournament was held. The only other year they made the knockouts was in 2008. Apart from those two years, it’s been a dismal ride for the side. The 2015 and 2016 performances will hurt them particularly, when they finished comfortably bottom despite having a good team on paper and always coming out on the wrong end of close defeats.

2017 AUCTION ACTION
They spent a considerable sum in the 2017 auction, splurging out Rs 9.45 crore and buying eight players. Three of those – T Natarajan, Matt Henry and Varun Aaron – are seamers, with Darren Sammy bringing all-round skills into the mix. They also got in Guptill and Morgan to strengthen their top-order batting, and a couple of young spin-bowling allrounders in Rahul Tewatia and Rinku Singh. Overall it was a good showing, but getting Ishant in when they have the new seamers in addition to Mohit, Sandeep and Anureet Singh seemed overkill.

Ishant, a fast bowler, as a replacement for Vijay, a batsman, seems like a strange move, and belies the good work the team actually did during the auctions. © Getty Images

Ishant, a fast bowler, as a replacement for Vijay, a batsman, seems like a strange move, and belies the good work the team actually did during the auctions. © Getty Images

YOUNG PLAYER TO WATCH
Rinku Singh was bought for his base price of Rs 10 lakh in this year’s auction as a complete unknown. He is still largely unknown, but the 19-year-old from Uttar Pradesh had a very good run in the Vijay Hazare Trophy last month. He made only 190 runs, but was batting lower down the order. Curiously, he had an average of 38 but not a single half-century in six innings, suggesting he was consistent and quick-scoring in the limited opportunities available. Most impressive though, was his strike-rate of 130.13. Among frontline batsmen (at least 150 runs), the only one who scored quicker was Kedar Jadhav, who struck at 136.36.

SQUAD
Glenn Maxwell (capt), Wriddhiman Saha, Martin Guptill, Hashim Amla, Manan Vohra, David Miller, Eoin Morgan, Marcus Stoinis, Rinku Singh, Darren Sammy, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Axar Patel, Mohit Sharma, Sandeep Sharma, T Natarajan, Ishant Sharma, Varun Aaron, Anureet Singh, Armaan Jaffer, KC Cariappa, Matt Henry, Shaun Marsh, Nikhil Naik, Pardeep Sahu, Swapnil Singh, Rahul Tewatia.