After a miserable T20I series against England, Punjab Kings (PBKS) skipper KL Rahul showed signs of the form that has made him instrumental to his team's success in the Indian Premier League (IPL). Coached by Anil Kumble, the franchise relied heavily on Rahul's output with the bat in its late IPL 2020 surge that nearly resulted in a playoffs spot.
As has been the pattern, however, PBKS made some strange auction decisions. Entering the auctions with the largest available purse, the team splashed money on inexperienced Australian quick Riley Meredith, who may not play a single game owing to team combination issues. Mayank Agarwal went from being an all-format team India pick to being out of the XI in all formats over the course of the Australia tour.
The team that last qualified for the playoffs in 2014 might struggle once more this season. Here are three reasons why PBKS will not win IPL 2021.
#3 Absurd foreign slot competition
Just like they did in the 2018 auctions, PBKS have a number of high profile buys that compete with each other in a way that ensures neither the team nor the players are well served. Let's start with the three foreign players PBKS retained from last season - Chris Gayle, Nicholas Pooran and Chris Jordan.
If all three are to play, it means the world's No. 1 T20I batsman, Dawid Malan, sits out. If not, Malan replaces either the greatest T20 batsman or one of West Indies' brightest talents. If Jordan plays, then only one of Moises Henriques and Jhye Richardson can play, implying either a weakened bowling attack or a longer tail.
What complicates the issue for PBKS is the players in competition are either uniformly left-handed batsmen or right-arm quicks, meaning a low variety of skillsets on offer. Diversifying their auction picks, given they started with five vacant overseas spots, would have helped.
#2 Lack of genuine all-rounders
A result of the problem above is that despite having the largest auction purse, PBKS do not have a genuine all-rounder who is likely to consistently play all games. Moises Henriques has been around the IPL for a while but the team needs to make some sacrifices if he is to play. Fabian Allen is not quite at the stature to command a place.
Ironically, someone as talented as Shakib Al Hasan, who may have been that middle order solution, was picked up for just above INR 3 crore by the Kolkata Knight Riders. In terms of Indian middle order options, the Kings have the likes of Saurabh Kumar and Jalaj Saxena - who may not play regularly - and the duo of Deepak Hooda and Shahrukh Khan, neither of whom were bought for their bowling.
#1 KL Rahul's failure as PBKS skipper
A feature of PBKS' IPL 2020 season was losing matches they looked certain to win - a super-over loss to the Delhi Capitals, a two-run loss to the Knight Riders and a heist by the Rajasthan Royals among others. A major chunk of that can be pinned to KL Rahul's muddled thinking in the middle.
Rahul erroneously promoted Prabhsimran Singh against the Knight Riders in a tense chase, holding the likes of Glenn Maxwell and Pooran back. He then relied on the expensive Sheldon Cottrell at the death and had him taken apart. It took till mid-season for Rahul to work out how best to utilise the powerplay such that his wristspinners and Indian quicks could deal the most damage in the later overs, and PBKS can ill-afford being so far behind the pack.