Where they finished in 2018
After registering six wins in their first nine games, Kings XI Punjab’s season took a nosedive, and they lost their remaining five matches to finish in seventh place with 12 points.
An opening combination of Chris Gayle and KL Rahul can threaten any bowling attack. While many had written Gayle off before the last season, the West Indian finished IPL 2018 with 368 runs from 11 innings at an average of 40.88 and a strike rate of 146.03. Rahul, meanwhile, was on a different plane altogether, notching up 659 runs from 14 innings at almost 55 with a strike rate of 158.41. Together, they added 545 runs for the first wicket, the most by any opening pair in the tournament.
With 39 sixes in four innings in the recent ODI series against England, Gayle showed that his powers haven’t waned, while Rahul too looked close to his best during the T20I series against Australia. Punjab will once again bank on them for providing big starts.
In the bowling department, they will rely on the spinners in the main, with captain R Ashwin at the forefront. He will be backed by mystery spinners Mujeeb-ur-Rahman and Varun Chakravarthy, who can bowl everything from carrom balls to googlies, making it hard for batsmen to line them up.
Both Ashwin (6.85) and Mujeeb (6.70) have economy rates below seven, and even though Varun is yet to play an IPL match, his economy (4.70) during the Tamil Nadu Premier League was the best among bowlers who bowled at least 15 overs.
The lack of an explosive allrounder can affect the balance of the team. Although they have Sam Curran and Moises Henriques on their roster, neither is a shoo-in for the first XI. And, in that case, Ashwin might bat at No. 7 with a long tail to follow.
The overseas question
Punjab’s best combination of overseas players would be Gayle, David Miller, Andrew Tye and Mujeeb.
While Gayle wasn’t part of the playing XI for the first two games last season, given his recent form, he should be one of the first names on the team sheet this time around. Miller will assume the role of the finisher; Tye and Mujeeb will shoulder seam and swing bowling responsibilities.
Nicholas Pooran, Curran, Henriques and Hardus Viljoen are the other overseas players in the squad but it’s difficult to see any of them replacing Gayle, Miller, Tye or Mujeeb at the start.
The best XI
1 Chris Gayle, 2 KL Rahul (wk), 3 Mayank Agarwal, 4 Karun Nair, 5 David Miller, 6 Mandeep Singh, 7 R Ashwin (capt), 8 Andrew Tye, 9 Ankit Rajpoot, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Mujeeb Ur Rahman
Coach: Mike Hesson, Batting coach: Sridharan Sriram, Bowling coach: Ryan Harris, Fielding coach: Craig McMillan
Will they make the play-offs?
While the core of the team remains intact from last season, they might again end up finishing outside the top four unless they can bring in the consistency they have often lacked over the years.