For a team that has a wealth of talent at its disposal, Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) has been carrying the underachiever’s tag for too long in the Indian Premier League (IPL).
It’s been a familiar story for the Punjab franchise across twelve editions of the domestic T20 league – making a jolly good feast of things in the initial phase of the tournament only to trail off in a blaze of woe and a sense of under-accomplishment at the business end.
So as the tournament shifts to the deserts of the Emirates this year, the question that is uppermost in the minds of all KXIP fans is will the script be any different for them this year?
The team owners, on their part, have rung in changes to the coaching staff, bringing in former India captain and coach Anil Kumble and handing the captaincy reins to KL Rahul in the hope that they will bring the much-needed turnaround to their IPL fortunes.
While Rahul took the captaincy mantle from his Test mate Ravichandran Ashwin, Kumble replaced his former dressing room buddy Virender Sehwag as head coach.
Natural choice to lead KXIP
Before world cricket went under lockdown, the India opener had been in rollicking form, especially in the shorter formats. He scored 224 runs, including two half-centuries, in the five-match T20I series against New Zealand.
Confirming Rahul’s appointment as skipper, Satish Menon, CEO, KXIP, said, “KL Rahul has emerged as one of the leaders of the team over his two seasons with Kings XI Punjab. His batting has been exemplary, and he has anchored many of our memorable wins.
The numbers say it alone, KL has been our highest run-scorer for the last two seasons by a comfortable margin.”
Voicing hope that Rahul has what it takes to lead KXIP on the revival road and win them the elusive IPL crown, Menon said, “He’s versatile as well – he has been willing to make sacrifices for the team, wicket-keeping and opening, providing us more flexibility in our approach. He is very simply the natural choice to lead Kings XI Punjab.”
Simply put, Rahul’s IPL stocks have shot up since he linked his lot with the Kings. In 28 matches, over two seasons, the Karnataka bomber has scored 1,252 runs at a stunning average of 54.43 and a strike rate of 146.60.
Hedging their bets on the 27-year-old, the KXIP owners have hope that Rahul, on current form, will lead from the front and inspire his charges to their maiden IPL title.
Fair shot at title
Bringing Kumble into the team think-tank could also prove to be a masterstroke as the former leg-spinner has an impressive resume as coach, fashioning four Test series wins against England, New Zealand, Australia and Bangladesh.
Under his able guidance, India also made the final of the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy, which they eventually lost to arch-rivals Pakistan.
His coaching experience would come in handy as he gets down to the business of charting a glory road for the Kings.
With the team that they have put together this year, one should expect them to have a fair shot at the title.
In batting, they have enough firepower with Rahul and the ‘Universe Boss’ Chris Gayle upfront, followed by the likes of Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair, Glenn Maxwell, Mandeep Singh, Jimmy Neesham, Nicholas Pooran and Sarfaraz Khan.
Their bowling has the pace of Mohammad Shami, Chris Jordan, Sheldon Cottrell and Hardus Viljoen, as well as the guile of Murugan Ashwin, Mujibar ur Rahman, Krishnappa Gowtham and young Ravi Bishnoi, who turned many heads with his leg-spin during the recent Under-19 World Cup.
The closest that the Kings came to winning the title was in 2014 when they lost the final to the Kolkata Knight Riders. This time, however, one hopes that the Kumble-Rahul tango will help them go one better and lift the crown.
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