Punjab Kings (PBKS) had a rollercoaster ride in the IPL 2020 season. Kings XI Punjab, as they were known back then, lost six of their first seven games and were rock bottom in the points table.
However, those who followed the Mohali-based team's season knew that they weren't playing poor cricket. Instead, the Punjab Kings were managing to lose games from situations where they were in the driver's seat.
As fate would have it, they ended up winning their next five games on the trot. Once again, a fairytale IPL story looked set to be on the cards. But just when everything seemed to heading in the right direction, they lost their last two league games and finished sixth in the points table.
5 Punjab Kings players to watch out for in IPL 2021
Given that there was a new captain in KL Rahul and fresh team management led by Indian legend Anil Kumble, IPL 2020 was certainly a season to forget. With the biggest purse for the IPL 2021 auction, many expected the Punjab Kings to go all out for some of the biggest T20 stars.
However, they were smart with their picks and built a squad that now looks capable of making the final four. They have kept their core intact from last year and their set of key players will be crucial to their chances of winning that elusive maiden IPL title.
With a new name and a new jersey, KL Rahul's men will be hoping for a change in fortune. Here are five key players from the Punjab Kings who can bring home their first IPL trophy.
#5 Ravi Bishnoi
With a breakthrough 2020 U19 World Cup campaign under his belt, where he was the highest wicket-taker with 17 scalps, Ravi Bishnoi was certainly going to attract a lot of bids in the IPL 2020 auction.
He was snapped up by the Punjab Kings for a whopping INR 2 Crore and it was a dream come true for the youngster to work under legendary leg-spinner Anil Kumble. He played all 14 games last season and picked up 12 wickets. While leg-spinners generally prove to be expensive in T20s, Bishnoi had an economy of just 7.37.
In a team where bowling proved to be the weak-link, Bishnoi formed a successful spinning combination with fellow leggie Murugan Ashwin. The duo made crucial contributions during Punjab Kings' five-match winning streak.
With a season of IPL experience under his belt, Bishnoi will be an even more dangerous bowler this season. A quick learner, he will need to be among the top wicket-takers if the Punjab Kings are to make it to the playoffs.
#4 Mohammed Shami
It is safe to say that Mohammed Shami was the Punjab Kings' best bowler last season. Whenever KL Rahul needed to break a partnership, he turned to Shami and more often than not, the speedster did the job for his skipper.
For the majority of the season, Shami was one of the front-runners for the Purple Cap. He picked up 20 wickets in 14 games at an outstanding average of 23. He also had a decent economy of 8.57.
One of the main issues last season was that the Punjab Kings didn't have another pacer who could support the pressure that Shami created from one end. But with new acquisitions like Jhye Richardson and Riley Meredith, Shami is likely to receive decent support this time around.
Also, with young Indian pacers like Ishan Porel and Arshdeep Singh doing well in domestic cricket of late, the Punjab Kings pace battery looks well-oiled ahead of the upcoming season. It will be interesting to see how their bowling attack performs this time around.
#3 Nicholas Pooran
Nicholas Pooran has turned out to be one of the most underrated buys of the IPL in recent years. He played 7 games for the Punjab Kings in 2019 and scored 168 runs. Many fans were sceptical of the decision to play him ahead of David Miller.
But Pooran proved his worth in the IPL 2020 season, smashing 353 runs in 14 games at a phenomenal strike-rate of 169.71. He also hit the longest six (106 metres) of IPL 2020 in a game against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
With Glenn Maxwell failing miserably, it was Pooran's big-hitting ability that kept the Punjab Kings alive until their last league game. He will once again be an important cog in their wheel this season.
Pooran is likely to get a finisher's role this time with new buys like Moises Henriques set to bat higher up the order. If he maintains the hitting form that he showed last year, we could be in for some fireworks throughout the IPL 2021 season.
#2 KL Rahul
Very seldom does a batsman get criticized for his approach despite winning the Orange Cap. This is exactly what happened to KL Rahul last season. The Punjab Kings skipper was in excellent form for Team India over the last 12 months leading into IPL 2020 where he delivered, scoring 670 runs - the highest last season.
But a bigger issue was his strike-rate of 129.34, which was deemed to be rather low for a T20 opener. Although Rahul later came out and said that strike-rate is overrated in T20s, he certainly struggled in the T20I series against England, scoring just 15 runs from 4 innings.
Skipper Virat Kohli formed a successful opening combination with Rohit Sharma in the fifth T20I and there are now talks that the two senior Indian batsmen may open at the T20 World Cup. This means that there might be no place for KL Rahul in Team India's T20I playing XI.
With the likes of Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav doing well for India in their respective maiden T20 innings, the IPL 2021 season will be crucial for Rahul.
KL Rahul maintains that leading Punjab Kings to their first-ever IPL title is the main objective. But deep down, the 28-year-old also knows that this might be his last chance to cement a place in India's T20 World Cup squad.
#1 Chris Gayle
Who else, but the 'Universe Boss' makes the top of this list. Chris Gayle is arguably the biggest match-winner in the current Punjab Kings squad. He is a great example of the saying that "age is just a number". The West Indies legend is going strong at 41 and, at IPL 2020, showed exactly what kind of impact he can still make.
As soon as Gayle was included in the playing XI last year, the Punjab Kings won five games in a row. He brought that consistency that his team so badly needed. He also proved his versatility by adjusting to the No.3 slot despite being an opener throughout his career.
The top three of KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and Chris Gayle will be the focal points of the Punjab Kings batting this season. With 288 runs in just 7 games last season, Gayle proved why he should be playing right from their first game of IPL 2021.
Still one of the most dangerous batsmen in T20 cricket around the world, Punjab Kings' hopes of lifting their maiden IPL trophy this season will rest on Gayle's shoulders.