Have Punjab Kings just finished an Indian Premier League auction with arguably the best first XI across all teams in the tournament? Here’s the obvious caveat, you cannot really be sure about how good an auction a franchise has had till they take to the field and start competing. But, there is no denying that Punjab have given themselves a serious chance for the upcoming IPL season, at the very least.
The Punjab franchise have, over the years, been at similar positions at these auctions: faced with a rebuild. The auction did not have to be “mega” for Punjab to have a wafer thin squad and build from scratch.
Maybe all that experience eventually came in handy while every other team (among the eight originals) was forced to deal with a near-reluctant reset. Punjab’s job was made easy by their captain all but making clear he wanted an exit and the only real retention options they had where an established top order batter in Mayank Agarwal and a promising local talent in pacer Arshdeep Singh.
They would have loved to retain Sharukh Khan but as an uncapped player he would have been signed up for Rs 4 crore, a figure he was going to go past easily at the auction table. They ended up getting him at Rs 9 crore, effectively a third retention, if you will.
Players recruited by Punjab Kings at auction
|Full name||Price (Rs cr)||Times over base price||Country||State Association||Age||Specialism||2021 Team||C/U/A||Base|
|Kagiso Rabada||9.25||4.63||South Africa||26||BOWLER||DC||Capped||200|
|Odean Smith||6.00||6.00||West Indies||25||ALL-ROUNDER||Capped||100|
|Raj Angad Bawa||2.00||10.00||India||UTCA||19||ALL-ROUNDER||Uncapped||20|
|Bhanuka Rajapaksa||0.50||1.00||Sri Lanka||30||BATSMAN||Capped||50|
Possible Best Playing XI
Punjab, with the most funds available, broke the bank for Liam Livingstone, Shikhar Dhawan, Shahrukh Khan and Kagiso Rabada. Jonny Bairstow is going to be a brilliant opening partner for Dhawan who has been in imperious form in IPL in the last couple of years. With Agarwal to follow, the consistency of the top three is going to be a big factor in their campaign.
But the excitement follows after that.
|PBKS||Price (Rs crore)||Overseas|
|5||Raj Angad Bawa||2|
In KL Rahul, PBKS arguably had the best T20 batter in the country but playing like he didn’t want to believe that often. Sure, the runs flowed from his bat and the numbers will be kind to him in the future, but anyone who saw Punjab under him, saw the fireworks only when the season was nearly over, but not while it could have still been saved. You couldn’t help but wonder, what if.
Whether that was Rahul doing a job he was asked to, or whether he took the call to be conservative in the quest for solidity over flamboyance, we may never know. But it wasn’t helping him or the franchise and now, in his absence, they have a solid top order that might not score the same volume of runs as he did but a middle order that is dripping with power-hitting intent.
Mind you, Agarwal himself has been as good as Rahul for Punjab if not better with his batting efforts and if he keeps that up, there is enough excitement around him to make Punjab the most watchable batting unit in the league with Livingstone, Bawa, Shahrukh, Smith to follow.
In Arshdeep too, they have a bowler who is capable of executing well at the top and back-end of an innings and if he continues his growth, could become a great long-term asset.
In Livingstone, they also have a multi-dimensional cricketer who will help the balance and Raj Bawa is the next big exciting all-rounder coming up in Indian cricket.
While the batting unit is largely fantastic, the bowling unit still doesn’t inspire consistent match-winning confidence. In Rabada, they have trusted arguably one of the greatest pacers of the generation but his T20 form in recent times hasn’t quite inspired the same amount of dread as it did when he took wickets for fun in the league.
With Rahul Chahar as the frontline spinner, PBKS will dearly hope he levels up and lives up to the promise that made India pick him for a World Cup. Things have not exactly gone to plan for him since, and it remains to be seen he can shine as a lead spinner in an IPL squad.
While there are multi-dimensional cricketers aplenty in the squad, the death bowling could still be a big concern for the side that has often struggled to close out matches in the recent past.
The lack of an obvious choice in the middle order for an Indian batter is also an area of concern. The fact that a raw talent like Bawa seems to be the best bet there says a story. But in Rishi Dhawan, they have a player in great domestic form potentially waiting for a second wind in IPL. Overall, in backing local talent, Punjab continue to have that air of inexperience around their overall squad quality.
And, while this is certainly not an evident weakness, the lack of an obvious captaincy candidate is something that could come back to affect them. T20 is, indeed, moving on to a more nuanced era of matchups and pre-match tactical preparation but a good captain is still an essential part of the squad and that the two options that are in the fray – Dhawan and Agarwal – are both inexperienced in this area (despite being vastly experienced as batters), could make things difficult in executing their plans. So, while it is not a deal-breaker, it is an area worth keeping an eye on.
Who’s saying what
Assistant coach Jonty Rhodes: “We came in to the mega auction with a plan and with a preferred 11 and we are really happy with the result and obviously with that you obviously need backups as well, for the overseas players and for the domestic players. But if you told us at the start of the auction *that* was going to be the result we would have taken it every single time.”
Former India and Kings XI Punjab player Irfan Pathan on Star Sports: “I think [Liam Livingstone] deserves it. A lot of people might not agree with that, but I predicted that nearly two months ago because of the kind of skill set he has got. He’s a batter, he’s got fast hands, amazing wrists, and at one point of time, I think a couple of seasons back - he was the No. 2 six-hitter in the world, especially when it comes to T20 cricket. Most importantly, he can actually bowl leg-spin if a right-hand batter comes and he can bowl off-spin when a left-hand batter comes. If you’re smart and can manage him, he will be very good. So, a perfect buy.”