If there’s one thing the Indian Premier League has repeatedly brought to light in ten prior editions is that big names don’t necessarily mean big deeds. Titles haven’t come on the back of individual performances. Instead, when larger cogs mesh seamlessly with smaller gears, they create the right kind of traction required for finish-line propulsion. Often enough, that’s how crowns are gained and legacies created.
Punjab’s inability to efficiently utilise every ring on the sprocket has affected their cadence en route to a successful run, every year. This despite possessing some of the most dynamic cricketers of this generation for a decade.
To rid themselves of this repeat offence, Punjab went out of their way during the 2018 auction to rejig the entire unit, only retaining Axar Patel, picking 20 fresh players and naming R Ashwin as their skipper. In truth, they have spiraled back to the same trench. They haven’t forged their armoury as well as they could have despite spending Rs 67.4 crore. These voids will require the big names to be at their best throughout and the lesser known bunch to come up with more than they’re used to. Consistency isn’t plausible under these circumstances, meaning Punjab could be in for another disappointing season. But cricket is strange and IPL stranger still so there is always room for the disjointed to dream through a miasma of the past.
If batting alone could win games, Punjab would stand a better-than-brilliant chance of coming out on top every single time. Yuvraj Singh, Chris Gayle, Aaron Finch, David Miller, Karun Nair, Mayank Agarwal and KL Rahul! Certainly, all of these names will not feature in the playing eleven at a singular point, but a good chunk of them will be there with the bat in hand and that’s a scary enough proposition for teams, especially if they’re having an off day with the ball. Ashwin, although inexperienced as a skipper, can be expected to marshal the troops with his astute, if sometimes over expressive, understanding of the game. ‘Horses for courses’ won’t be a problem to pick from given the depth available, and that extends to the quality of spinners they have at their disposal. From Ashwin to Axar, from Mayank Dagar to Mujeeb Zadran, they have an enviable lot to choose from.
To call Punjab’s pace unit their Achilles Heel is an understatement of an understatement. They’re stretched so thin it’s almost a wonder they had an auction strategy in place. It actually seems more like they made a last-minute dash to pick up on the crumbs. Their only frontline paceman with reputation is Andrew Tye. Ben Dwarshuis, the left-arm seamer, has been good with Sydney Sixers in the Big Bash League but that doesn’t exactly provide the required security. Marcus Stoinis is quite effective with the old ball, keeping it tight, but he isn’t exactly what you would consider a frontline pace option. From the Indian lot, they have the experienced Mohit Sharma, an injury-prone Barinder Sran and Ankit Rajpoot. Not exactly a winning recipe.
PAST RECORD: Only once have Punjab made it to the title round, and that was way back in 2014 where they went down to Kolkata Knight Riders despite putting up 199. The only other time they looked somewhat in contention was during the opening season where they reached the semis. Besides these two occasions, Punjab have consistently finished outside the play-offs, and on five occasions they have finished eighth.
2018 AUCTION ACTION:
The zeal with which Preity Zinta, Punjab’s co-owner, bid at the auction, it came across as a ploy to hike player prices only to eat into budgets of other teams, not so much genuine interest in boosting their squad. Turns out there was some method to the madness as well. They retained Axar and used Right to Match cards on David Miller (Rs 3 crore), Marcus Stoinis (Rs 6.2 crore) and Mohit Sharma (Rs 2.4 crore). They could well have retained another player and still used three RtMs. Seems like a missed trick!
YOUNG PLAYER TO WATCH:
Mayank Agarwal: Given the form Agarwal has been in over the last one year, there is reason to expect Law of Averages to catch up with him sooner than later, but owing to his history in the event, it’s only right to put these thoughts of inevitabilities to rest until after this season. With 2,232 runs in the 2017-18 season, Agarwal now holds the record for most runs in a single year in domestic cricket. That he didn’t get a call-up to the national side despite that run will be playing on his mind, and if he does turn that fuel to the fire, he could well scorch the field.
SQUAD: R Ashwin (capt), Chris Gayle, Aaron Finch, KL Rahul, Karun Nair, Mayank Agarwal, David Miller, Yuvraj Singh, Marcus Stoinis, Manoj Tiwary, Akshdeep Nath, Mayank Dagar, Ben Dwarshuis, Manzoor Dar, Mujeeb Zadran, Axar Patel, Ankit Rajpoot, Pardeep Sahu, Mohit Sharma, Barinder Sran, Andrew Tye.