Core remains the same

Azhar Mahmood and Adam Gilchrist... match-winners in their own ways.-AKHILEH KUMAR

Kings XI Punjab sprang a bit of a surprise last season, remaining in contention for a berth in the qualifiers till the last round of the league games when it had mostly been written off. Even when captain Adam Gilchrist’s injury forced him out for a month through the tournament, Kings XI didn’t fade away, instead doing just enough to stay alive. David Hussey led the side admirably in the absence of Gilchrist, and was one of its more consistent batsmen alongside Shaun Marsh. Kings XI’s highest run-scorer, though, was Mandeep Singh. His performances (432 runs, including a match-winning 48-ball-75 against Deccan Chargers), and those of Parwinder Awana — who emerged the team’s highest wicket-taker (17) and went from an unknown to India international — vindicated the franchise’s frugality in the transfer market.

Never one of the IPL’s more free-spending sides, Kings XI signed up only Luke Pomersbach ($300,000) and Manpreet Gony ($500,000) at this year’s auction. India under-19 players Sandeep Sharma (part of the 2012 World Cup-winning squad) and Manan Vohra — both from Punjab — were also drafted in.

The core of the side thus remains the same. Gilchrist, Hussey, Marsh and Mandeep — he had a lukewarm domestic season — will be expected to lead with the bat while Piyush Chawla, the team’s second-highest wicket-taker (16), Praveen Kumar and Awana will be relied on to deliver with the ball.

Kings XI’s most inspirational figure last season, however, was veteran Azhar Mahmood. A seasoned Twenty20 player, Mahmood proved a match-winner with his all-round skills. A Punjabi (although from across the border), Mahmood quickly settled in, guiding the team’s young crop along the way. He will be depended on again, to drag the team out of trouble.

Featuring a settled unit and a smattering of youngsters from Punjab, the franchise’s understanding of team dynamics deserves some credit. But if performances are to remain freely erratic like last season, losing games that should have ended in victory, and winning some that seemed set for defeat, it is hard to envision Kings XI uprooting any trees.

Kings XI finished sixth last season. It should not struggle at the bottom this time, but it’s unlikely that the team will go all the way.

Shreedutta Chidananda