The Punjab Kings have been the perennial underachievers in the Indian Premier League. Barring an impressive run in 2014 powered by the batting brilliance of Virender Sehwag, Glenn Maxwell and David Miller, the team have failed to make the final four in each of the past 14 seasons in the IPL.
However, in IPL 2022, things were supposed to be different for the Kings. They were one of the most talked-about sides post-auction, with a squad filled with seasoned international stars, exciting Indian talents and muscular power-hitters.
Shikhar Dhawan and Kagiso Rabada were poached from a Delhi Capitals team that reached the playoffs three years in a row, Liam Livingstone and Jonny Bairstow were part of the English white-ball outfit that dominated world cricket, while Odean Smith was billed as the West Indian heir apparent to the likes of Andre Russell and Kieron Pollard.
However, as it turns out, after just four wins in nine games, most of the optimism was just a mirage, with the pre-tournament excitement being nothing more than a smokescreen which hid some fatal flaws in the makeup of this squad. Because, if you dig a little deeper and analyse the 2022 Punjab Kings, just like the current Manchester United team, they have just assembled a group of exciting, big names without paying too much attention to how they fit together and work as a unit.
Here are the problems ailing the Punjab Kings in IPL 2022
The Left-Hander Conundrum
Shikhar Dhawan, Mayank Agarwal, Jonny Bairstow, Liam Livingstone, Jitesh Sharma, Shahrukh Khan, Odean Smith.
Do you notice the problem yet?
In Punjab’s first-choice XI to start the tournament, the main issue plaguing their side was the lack of a left-hander throughout the entire middle order. While some teams pay too much importance to a right-left combination at the crease, Punjab travelled in the complete opposite direction, building a team that didn’t even have a single playable left-hander in their middle order. This decision was eventually corrected with the introduction of Bhanuka Rajapaksa at the expense of Odean Smith in game 8, but by that time, the damage was already done.
Here are the numbers of left-arm spinners or leg-spinners against the Punjab Kings between games four to seven this season – the ones in which this first-choice XI featured.
|Rashid Khan||Gujarat Titans||4-0-22-3|
|M Ashwin||Mumbai Indians||4-0-34-1|
|J Suchith||Sunrisers Hyderabad||4-0-28-1|
|Axar Patel||Delhi Capitals||4-0-10-2|
In each of the four matches, the spinners have been more economical than the match run rate and have bowled game-breaking spells that have crippled the Kings through the middle overs. Even in their most recent encounter against the Lucknow Super Giants, left-arm spinner Krunal Pandya had a field day. On a tricky pitch to bat on, the left-hander conceded just five runs off his final 18 deliveries – all of which were bowled to right-handers – causing Punjab to slip up in what should have been a relatively straightforward run-chase of 153.
Despite having some monstrous six-hitters, the lack of a viable left-handed middle-order batter has effectively cost Punjab on various occasions throughout their last six matches. The only two games they have won in this period were when Shikhar Dhawan – a left-hander – batted through the innings – 70(50) vs MI and 88(59) vs CSK – and countered any left-arm orthodox and leg-spin threat.
Who’s the fifth bowler?
Having noticed the lack of a left-hander through the middle overs was negatively impacting their ability to win games, Punjab eventually made the requisite changes to fix their line-up against the Chennai Super Kings in game eight. Left-handed Bhanuka Rajapaksa was brought in to fix the middle-order issues at the expense of Odean Smith, while Rishi Dhawan replaced Shahrukh Khan to add another bowling option.
Unfortunately for the Kings, although this move fixed the batting problems, it left them light in the bowling department, forcing them to rely on Liam Livingstone and Rishi Dhawan to fulfil the fifth bowler’s quota.
Compromises have to be made somewhere to get a functioning batting order in place on Indian pitches, but in the two games following this switch, Livingstone and Rishi Dhawan have conceded 9.7 runs an over (nine overs bowled).
The Second Spinner
Another glaring issue in the Punjab Kings squad for 2022 is the lack of a second quality spinner in the setup. Playing in India, on pitches that are likely to deteriorate and get slower as the tournament progresses due to the quantum of games played on four grounds, having a second spinner is vital. Most of the top sides in this IPL, such as Lucknow (Krunal, Bishnoi, Gowtham), Bangalore, (Hasaranga, Shahbaz, Maxwell) and Rajasthan (Ashwin and Chahal), have at least two top-quality spin options in their playing XI.
However, barring Rahul Chahar, the Kings don’t have any quality spinner they can use in their first XI. Liam Livingstone is passable as an occasional option based on some matchups, but he can’t be considered a genuine all-rounder with an IPL economy of 11.3.
The Kings did pay Rs. 3.8 Cr in the auction for Harpreer Brar to play this role for the side, but after two underwhelming games wherein he conceded 11.6 runs an over, that experiment was hastily shelved. Brar did show some promise with the ball in IPL 2021 – economy of 6.04 in 23 overs – but with the Kings fielding four specialist bowlers from numbers 8 to 11 (Rabada, Chahar, Arshdeep, Sandeep) the left-armer isn’t a viable option considering he doesn’t have the batting to warrant a spot at number seven.
The Jonny Bairstow Conundrum
In his three seasons at Sunrisers Hyderabad, Jonny Bairstow was one of the best overseas batters in the IPL. The Englishman boasted an unbelievable average of 41 at a strike rate of 142 in his 28 games donning the orange jersey. Crucially, those numbers came while he was opening the innings alongside David Warner, where he is most effective and at his destructive best.
However, at Punjab, Bairstow was recruited to bat at number three, with Shikhar and Mayank opening the innings, thereby reducing his impact.
Bairstow vs Spin since IPL 2020 (Overs 7 to 16)
Runs: 142 | Balls: 111 | Average: 20.3 | Strike Rate: 128
As the numbers above depict, Bairstow offers less value to the side when having to play in the middle order and primarily face spin bowling from the get-go because he isn’t as comfortable at starting against spin. If you look at Bairstow’s England career as well, the numbers tell a similar story, with his record against spin varying depending on his batting position.
Bairstow in T20Is vs Spin since 2018 (Overs 7 to 16)
|Batting Position||Balls faced||Avg||SR||Dot%|
When he opens the innings, Bairstow can get his eye in against the pacers during the powerplay before continuing that momentum through the middle overs against any bowling type. However, when batting at number four – as he has done in recent years – Bairstow comes to the crease when the spinners are bowling in tandem, and the Yorkshireman struggles to offer the same acceleration and impact.
This problem, in a nutshell, has defined the Punjab Kings’ season.
Individually, each of Punjab’s auction purchases is an exciting, positive pick. However, when you put the puzzle together, the pieces don’t match.