Punjab have made it to the playoffs only twice in the 12 editions of the Indian T20 League so far. The big-time auction bidders have failed to replicate that kind of enthusiasm in the actual tournament and quite often, they have fallen well short of expectations despite having a reasonably good squad. Over the years, pace bowling has been their strength at home on the quick Mohali wicket but in the last few seasons, they have gone with the trend and realised that a strong batting core who can also bowl gives more chances of a win. Their spin resources are still slim as they built for Mohali and this could hurt them in UAE.
This realisation that their batting needed bolstering was evident in their auction ploy in 2020 too. They focused on bridging key gaps in their roster and built up on overseas all-rounders, bowlers and local Indian talent. As much as identifying that batsmen are critical to the cause, Punjab, with Anil Kumble in the think-tank, picked bowlers who could win matches on their own. Much of their season could, however, hinge on the batsmen.
Last 3 seasons - WIN/LOSS record
2017 - 7 wins, 7 losses
2018 - 6 wins, 8 losses
2019 - 6 wins, 8 losses
Punjab have routinely finished in the bottom half of the table over the years and their inability to find collective form was one major reason for this. They had an eighth-place finish thrice, one seventh-place finish and three other sixth-place finishes, including the last season.
Chris Gayle, Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair, Sarfaraz Khan, Mandeep Singh, Sheldon Cottrell, Ishan Porel, Ravi Bishnoi, Mohammed Shami, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Arshdeep Singh, Hardus Viljoen, M Ashwin, J Suchith, Harpreet Brar, Darshan Nalkande, Glenn Maxwell, James Neesham, Chris Jordan, Krishnappa Gowtham, Deepak Hooda, Tajinder Singh Dhillon, KL Rahul (C), Nicholas Pooran, Prabhsimran Singh.
Top run-scorers (last 3 seasons)
KL Rahul - 1252 runs
Chris Gayle - 858 runs
Mayank Agarwal - 452 runs
Top wicket-takers from retained players (last 3 seasons)
Mohammed Shami - 19 wickets
Mujeeb ur Rahman - 17 wickets
Even with Chris Gayle, KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Nicholas Pooran and Sarfaraz Khan forming a good core batting group, they further strengthened the squad with the additions of Glenn Maxwell - returning to the franchise after his exploits in the Big Bash League - and James Neesham, both all-rounders who are primarily batsmen.
With Nicholas Pooran also in the mix, Punjab have a strong batting line-up capable of winning games on their own. Mandeep Singh and Karun Nair add stability to the big-hitters around them and for once, Punjab seem to have the right blend of anchors and ball-strikers.
Overseas fast bowling additions, Chris Jordan and Sheldon Cottrell, are wonderful in the death and powerplay respectively and will be a handful despite the slow conditions expected.
Punjab let go of Ravichandran Ashwin who wasn't contributing much as the captain of the side but replacing him with Krishnappa Gowtham was a double-edged sword as the rookie does not have the experience of the Tamil Nadu spinner. Under-19 spinner Ravi Bishnoi is another addition in the spin department, but somehow it feels like there is too much pressure to play Mujeeb-ur-Rahman in the line-up, filling one overseas quota, to make the spin department look threatening. Given that the UAE deck demands slow bowlers, the onus on Mujeeb is too high.
Though Punjab have a formidable squad this time, there is indecision in the starting XI with too many of their varied strengths lying in overseas talent, all of whom can't make it to the final XI. Given the squad strength of the others, Punjab might just be in for another low-place finish.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Sajjad Hussain