Ben Jones previews Kings XI Punjab.
Last season: 7th
2018 was a year to forget for Kings XI. Whilst KL Rahul and AJ Tye had serious personal success, the rest of the team were not able to back up their good work, as they slumped to second bottom on the ladder following a bright start to the competition.
Englishman Sam Curran was a notable arrival, given his relative lack of experience in T20 cricket, and for the substantial price of 7.2 crore he will have serious expectations placed upon him. Australian Moises Henriques arrives with his all-round abilities offering a bit more balance, and ostensibly a replacement for fellow Aussie Marcus Stoins. Spinner Varun Chakravarthy – a relative unknown quantity – offers something a bit new, but given the lack of success last year, it was a surprisingly quiet window.
- Total players: 23
- Numbers of overseas players: 8
- Openers: KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Chris Gayle
- Middle-order batsmen: Karun Nair, David Miller, Mandeep Singh, Sarfaraz Khan
- Wicketkeepers: Prabhsimran Singh, Nicholas Pooran
- Allrounders: Agnivesh Ayachi, Varun Chakravarthy, Darshan Nalkande, Harpreet Brar, Moises Henriques, Sam Curran
- Wristspinners: Mujeeb Ur Rahman, M Ashwin
- Fingerspinners: R Ashwin
- Fast bowlers: Ankit Rajpoot, Andrew Tye, Arshdeep Singh, Hardus Viljoen, Mohammed Shami
The opening partnership of KL Rahul and Chris Gayle is arguably the most destructive in the tournament. Right-hand/left-hand, power and finesse, they compliment each other very nicely indeed. Kings XI will be be eager for the West Indian star to maintain his excellent form from the ODI series against England, where he plundered 424 runs in five innings, scoring at a rapid 8.05rpo. Rahul’s place in the World Cup squad could well depend on his performance this season – regardless of what his Indian skipper says – and so he will be motivated and aiming to please. Kings XI could well start plenty of matches like a house on fire.
Young Afghanistan bowler Mujeeb-ur-Rahman took the Big Bash League by storm this year, in the colours of the Brisbane Heat, and will look to replicate his success in Mohali. He’ll be backed up by the leading wicket-taker from IPL 10, AJ Tye the attack leader for Ashwin’s side, the Australian’s famous range of slower ball variations making him a threat on almost any surface. It seems likely that both will be in the first choice XI, which added to Gayle’s presence does limit their flexibility with regard to overseas spots, but that is something they can cope with.
Indian seam bowling
Part of the issue with Kings XI’s flexibility (or lack thereof) comes from the relative weakness of their domestic seam bowling options. Ankit Rajpoot and Mohammed Shami are solid performers, the latter improved in recent white ball series, but they aren’t the star performers seen on the other lists. They will need to over-perform in this area if they’re to compete.
Murugan Ashwin is the sole experienced wrist-spinner on the Kings XI roster. In this age of T20 cricket, you need to have a wrist-spinner in your side, and if he loses form or isn’t up to the required standard, then KXIP are in trouble. Mujeeb does offer some of the required mystery to fill this role, but the point still stands. A lot rests on Murugan’s shoulders.
Key Player: KL Rahul
Whilst Tye is arguably Kings XI’s best player, Rahul is their most important. Given the lack of depth in their domestic batting stocks (one of Mandeep Singh or Sarfaraz Khan has to play, and both are inexperienced), Rahul succeeding is crucial if KXIP are going to manage their delicate overseas balance. His poor year in other forms for the national side has put unexpected pressure on his campaign as an individual, but this season offers an opportunity for him to kickstart his own attempt to get into the World Cup.