Following another period of soul searching, Punjab will look to make optimistic amends with a pragmatic hope of ending their long-lasting record of not progressing beyond the league stage. After all, it’s a record that no one would like to be associated with.
To strengthen their team for the upcoming 12th edition of the Indian T20 League, the franchise from Punjab went into the auction with a whopping 36.20 crore worth of budget; significantly more than any of their rivals. The plan was in place, hence was the execution. The verdict of releasing several big names – like Aaron Finch, Axar Patel and Yuvraj Singh – was taken while the void was filled with the likes of Moises Henriques, Varun Chakaravarthy, Sam Curran and Mohammad Shami, to name a few.
As many as 13 new players were bought, which in a way highlighted their verity of challenging the best this season. The audacity of going all out during the auction though underscored the management’s perplexity as even though some players were absolute bargains, needless amount was spent on unproved prodigies.
With that being said, here we take a look at what strengthens and weakens the team as we draw closer to the tournament.
Without a shadow of doubt, it has to be the explosive opening pair of KL Rahul and Chris Gayle. In these two power hitters, the Punjab unit seem to be in safe hands. And if Rahul manages to replicate his previous self (his 2018 form), the opposition bowlers are sure to have some very hard time.
The management did a smart business as far as the batting department goes. Most of their front men were retained and only two new names arrived; Sarfaraz Khan and Harpreet Brar(for 25 and 20 Lakhs respectively).
Indranil Mujherjee / AFP
And as we speak of spin bowling, Punjab have arguably two of the best in business in form of Ravichandran Ashwin and Mujeeb Ur Rahman. The business during the auction though was done keeping the World Cup commitments in mind and if the duo is to depart midway through the season, the team will have Murugan Ashwin and Varun Chakravarthy (bought for 8.40 crore) as covers.
On paper, Punjab looks pretty stable with the likes of Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair, David Miller, Moises Henriques and Mandeep Singh (traded) providing a decent cover. The bitter truth, however, remains their extreme inconsistency which led the team down last season. After Rahul had done his task, none of the players could take charge.
Furthermore, the shortage of pace bowling might haunt the team at some point of time. Punjab are heavily reliant on Andrew Tye and it is safe to say they made a mockery of themselves by investing 4.8 crores in Mohammad Shami. With no disrespect, Shami remains a vital member of India, but his T20 numbers have been extremely below par.
Another fact to take note of is the eminent departure of Andrew Tye when the Australian training camp begins for the World Cup. As soon as the Aussie departs, will get vulnerable.
X-Factor: Young Blood
Ishara Kodikara / AFP
Heading into the 12th campaign, the hierarchy invested a big chunk in acquiring youth, laying down a firm foundation for future. And the ultimate specimen of the fact remains their 7.2 crore investment in a certain 20-year-old all-rounder, Sam Curran. Regardless of his lack of experience, Curran has a backing of more than a decent return with both ball and the bat of late.
Furthermore, a combined 50 Lakh expenditure on Arshdeep Singh and Darshan Nalkande is expected to bear fruit. As mentioned, as soon as Tye commits himself to the national duty, or say Mohammed Shami goes completely off form, the team will fall short in numbers, and this is when the aforementioned names along with Ankit Rajpoot will be of use.
Rajpoot, in particular, showed his worth last year by scalping 11 wickets in 8 games and has been in great form for Uttar Pradesh in the Indian domestic circuit.
The management also made sure they have enough cover if KL Rahul is to be kept off his wicket-keeping duties. Prabhsimran Singh, bought for a massive 4.8 crore after an intense bidding war, can be of good use at times. And another plus in Prabhsimran's trait is his big-hitting prowess.
Despite a decent batting order coupled with capable spinners, the fact remains that Punjab continue to struggle in middle order, and their doom is followed by the lack of option in pace bowling as well.
As many as 9 Punjab players will be playing their first season, hence the lack of experience is something that might work against them. The team has a decent squad, but others have better. So can they advance through the league stage this year and improve their standings? We don’t think so.