Punjab Kings will seek turnaround in fortunes under new skipper Dhawan

In a quest to secure its first Indian Premier League (IPL) playoffs berth since 2014, Punjab Kings will be bolstered by a new leader in Shikhar Dhawan and England all-rounder Sam Curran, who was roped in for ₹18.5 crore at the auction in December, making the 24-year-old the most expensive buy in the league’s history.

Following its defeat to Kolkata Knight Riders in the 2014 final, its only appearance in an IPL summit clash, Punjab hit rock bottom when it finished last in the points table in the following two seasons.

In the last eight editions of the tournament, a fifth-place finish in 2017 is the best the Kings can boast of. Also, a change in name in 2021, from the erstwhile Kings XI Punjab, failed to turn Punjab’s fortunes around.

Potent pace attack

While the Dhawan-led side has a well-rounded and potent overseas combination in Curran, Liam Livingstone and Kagiso Rabada, Punjab Kings will miss the services of Jonny Bairstow, who was ruled out of the tournament as he continues to recover from a freak leg injury.

Bairstow’s absence will compound Punjab’s problems as it has limited Indian options, particularly in the batting department, and send Dhawan on a hunt for an opening partner.

Punjab released its 2022 skipper Mayank Agarwal after a forgettable campaign and will rely on two explosive homegrown batters in the middle-order — Shahrukh Khan, who is yet to prove himself in the IPL, and Jitesh Sharma, who revelled last season with a strike rate of 163.64.

While the bevy of power-hitters in the squad, which also includes Bhanuka Rajapaksa, who could fill in for the injured Bairstow, is in keeping with Punjab’s thrill-a-minute batting, the lack of an anchor could hurt the team. Kings had the highest PowerPlay run rate (9.11) in 2022 but lost steam at the death, scoring at under 10 runs an over.

Curran will add much-needed depth to the batting and form a formidable three-pronged pace attack along with Arshdeep Singh and Kagiso Rabada. Punjab has its new-ball and death bowling well-covered with its first-choice pace options possessing the skills to succeed in the two challenging phases of play.

Leg-spinner Rahul Chahar, who has fallen off the radar of national selection, and left-arm spinner Harpreet Brar will shoulder the responsibility in the middle-overs.

Punjab’s spin department has some chinks but part-time tweaker Livingstone, who also bowls with the new ball, can be expected to tide them over.

All-rounder Sikandar Raza and pacer Nathan Ellis are reliable options who can cushion the impact of potential injuries.

With the return of the home-and-away format, Punjab Kings will play five of its home games at the I.S. Bindra Stadium in Mohali and two at the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium in Dharamsala.

Quicks raring to go

The quicks will be raring go to in conditions likely to favour seam-bowling while the batters will seek consistency in their cavalier approach as Punjab Kings sets out on yet another campaign looking for that elusive silverware.

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