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Kings XI Punjab: Season Review

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Glenn_Maxwell_Kings_XI_Punjab_KXIP_IPLKings XI Punjab: Season Review

Position: 8th

Played: 14, Won 3, Lost 11.

L W L L W L L L L L L L W L.

The contrast between this season and last season could not be more stark for KXIP. Last season they finished top of the league, winning 11 matches, before losing in the Final to KKR. This season they have finished bottom of the league stage, winning just three matches.

It is revealing that KXIP made at least one change to their team in every match apart from two this season and yet even then they kept losing and they kept losing in the same way. Ultimately the responsibility for such continuity in failure rests with the management. With a squad as large as those permitted in the IPL and with essentially an entire globe of cricketers to call upon at auction there is no reason why a team should fail so regularly, so similarly and show such little sense of strategic direction, relying instead on sporadic individual performances to maintain dignity.

It’s easy to say after such a disastrous season but it was negligent of the KXIP management to approach the Auction with such insouciance. KXIP retained all but three players from their 2014 squad before signing just three more at auction—two of whom didn't play. Admittedly, at the time, such stability seemed sensible; similarly to CSK and KKR, why change a winning team?

And yet, CSK and KKR have experienced success for a number of seasons. In a format as capricious as T20, success in just one season can as easily be an aberration as it can be a trend.

 

The problem, now clear in hindsight, although not invisible at the time of Auction, was that KXIP’s 2014 season was one of fragile success. It was success built largely on fortune of form and circumstance. KXIP’s management failed to notice fundamental flaws to their formula and now fourteen matches later, have paid the price.

 

Essentially, without demeaning what they did achieve in 2014, because it was spectacular, they played outstanding cricket because they had a number of players in outstanding form. Namely Glenn Maxwell, David Miller and George Bailey, while Virender Sehwag and Manan Vohra also played some excellent innings. Front-loading their batting, attacking furiously, this quintet fed off each other’s aggression and success, pushing each other harder and higher. Bowling attacks were forced on the defensive, fields dropped back and KXIP relentlessly attacked and didn’t step back. Their success was self-perpetuating and that was what made them so goddam good. But last season their form was excellent, this season it was terrible, and again, their success has been self-perpetuating but this time that is what made them so goddam bad. Win together, lose together, KXIP’s batting form is contagious.

Of course, the management cannot be blamed for a player’s or a number of player’s poor form, but they can be blamed for a squad not having alternative options to change personnel or strategy.

It may be a slight generalisation but Sehwag, Vohra, Miller, Maxwell, and to a lesser extent Bailey, are players that predominantly know one gear: attack. And when playing together they are a combination that lack subtlety and lack variation. Wriddhiman Saha and to a lesser extent Murali Vijay are players of slightly more depth, but given that Vijay has also been in terrible form, it’s asking too much of Saha to continually bail KXIP out of trouble. It says a lot about KXIP’s batting, and his own batting in fact, that Axar Patel was their third leading run-scorer. Often coming to the crease in dire situations, Patel regularly fought hard to drag KXIP back into matches or earn them some respectability.

Pursuing all-out attack is commendable but if there’s no plan B or a poor plan B to fall back on then it’s just reckless. CSK, the original front-loaders of the IPL at least have the class of Suresh Raina and Faf du Plessis, more nuanced players, in the middle-order. KXIP with Maxwell, Miller and Bailey (and Shaun Marsh) have aggressive-minded ball-strikers. Of course, they aren’t incapable of rotating the strike and manipulating the field, but it’s not their natural game-plan. KXIP’s batting balance is wrong and only the management can take the blame for that.

In 2014 KXIP’s bowling was a pleasant surprise. With relatively unknown bowlers, or bowlers unproved against high-quality batsmen, they complemented the firepower of the batting excellently. Encouragingly that aspect of their cricket wasn’t totally lost this season. Sandeep Sharma and Patel both continued to take wickets, while Anureet Singh, although expensive, was their leading wicket-taker with 15. Of course, they weren’t as frugal or as potent as last season but a lot of that rests largely on the inability of the batsmen to register more imposing scores.

KXIP certainly missed an in-form Mitchell Johnson, who took just 9 wickets and conceded runs at almost 9.50 per over. Indeed, Johnson’s form was perhaps indicative of a wider trend amongst KXIP’s key Australians that following a long, gruelling and pressurised World Cup campaign, Johnson, Maxwell and Bailey were fatigued. There is certainly something to be said for teams balancing their overseas players across more than one or two nations.

This season KXIP scored fewer runs and lost more wickets in the Powerplay than any other team and looking forward it may be time for them to look beyond Sehwag who scored just 99 runs from 9 matches at an average of 12.37 at the top of the order. Although, if he does decide his playing days are over, then rather than releasing him KXIP should consider appointing him as a mentor to the team—he is the godfather of modern batting and will be invaluable to any team who seek to employ him.

This was a disappointing season also for Vohra. First he found himself forced out of the team by Vijay and then, seeking to make his mark averaged just 11.71 from his seven innings. KXIP could learn something from the way RR deal with young talent and empower Vohra with greater responsibility next season.

Despite also being in poor form this season, KXIP should stick with Vijay. There are few Indian players with his experience that aren’t retained by teams and that in itself is a sign. Vijay is a valuable player who does add a degree of subtlety to KXIP’s batting. If there’s one thing to be learnt from CSK it’s that retaining a core of Indian players is crucial. For that reason too Sandeep, Axar and Anureet should definitely be retained, while Saha, as long as a wicket-keeper isn’t released elsewhere should also be so. Those retentions would give KXIP an Indian spine to work on nurturing over the coming years. They still do lack a quality Indian middle-order batsman, a Rohit Sharma, a Suresh Raina. Of course, such players are hard to come by, but they should scout hard for the next. Perhaps a Manish Pandey style-player or even Unmukt Chand or Vijay Zol; someone who can be the fulcrum of their team for years to come. They could also do worse than look to add a leg-spinner to their team. Patel is a decent bowler but not a spinner in the traditional sense.

Overseas players should largely be used, barring a case of an exceptional talent, as additions to the Indian core of a team. Considering this KXIP need to ensure they have at least one overseas middle-order batsman, preferably two. Given that they currently have three in Maxwell, Miller and Bailey, they could release one to free up some money for an opener. Becuase although Viijay and Vohra could form a formidible opening partnership it would be careless to rely on them doing so. They could perhaps break Vijay and Vohra up at one and three with a more reliable opener, perhaps in the mould of Ajinkya Rahane. Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson spring to mind.

When considering which of the three of Maxwell, Miller and Bailey to release, if indeed they decide to get rid of any of them, they should bear in mind that although Maxwell has had a poor season, he remains an impact player - a match-winner, and they don’t come along very often.

KXIP will also need an overseas fast bowler to lead the attack, the position of which has so far been filled by Johnson. However, given his volatility, KXIP could look to pick up a bowler in the ilk of Tim Southee or Dale Steyn, both of whom are on the fringes of their respective teams. They don’t necessarily have to release Johnson - he, like Maxwell, is a match-winner, but his inconsistency is destabilising.

More immediately, questions must surely be asked of the current management setup. Sanjay Bangar was widely praised for KXIP’s last season, but he should be widely criticised for this season’s failure. The players let him down but they had a thin squad and a shallow and rigid strategy and for that, only the management is to blame.



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