Perennial underachievers Kings XI Punjab will hope the new pair of skipper K.L. Rahul and head coach Anil Kumble can conjure up some magic as they head into the 13th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), having reached the playoff stages of the cash-rich tournament on just two occasions.
Rahul, who has been in red-hot form for India in white-ball cricket in the recent past, was appointed as skipper ahead of the season with former India captain and legendary off-spinner Kumble pencilled in as head coach.
“I have always enjoyed that leadership role and I have always enjoyed having responsibility on my shoulders. I am going into this (IPL) with an open mind and to learn on the go from each game and each day,” Rahul had told IANS in a recent interaction from Dubai.
The camaraderie between Kumble and Rahul, with both coming from Bengaluru, should also help the team.
“Knowing KL and other players from the past obviously helps understand each other really well. I have seen KL from a very young age as a player. This will be his first major (captaincy stint) – he’s captained at a junior level, but not in a high profile game. So far he has been brilliant,” Kumble had said.
Kings XI look strong on paper this time, but that has always been the case for the side in red who previously too had players like Glenn Maxwell, Chris Gayle and David Miller of more than decent T20 repute.
With Gayle and Maxwell still with them, there should not be a shortage of firepower. Kumble has said he would like the ‘Universe Boss’ to be more active as part of the leadership group.
At the top of the order, Mayank Agarwal should give the team solidity with the likes of Mandeep Singh and Karun Nair there to back up. Rahul has been in terrific form of late for India and Kings XI will hope he continues in the same vein, with the added motivation of leading the team to a title in the 13th attempt.
In the bowling department, India pacer Mohammed Shami will lead the pace battery with the likes of England seamer Chris Jordan, West Indies’ Sheldon Cottrell and New Zealand all-rounder James Neesham for support. The Indian battery of promising Ishan Porel, Darshan Nalkande and Arshdeep Singh will also lend support.
Afghanistan leg-spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman will provide top-quality spin option in UAE conditions which could have turn. Kings XI also have Murugan Ashwin, Krishanappa Gowtham and Ravi Bishnoi in the spin department.
The side reached the playoff stages in 2008 and 2014. Kings XI have an enviable record in the UAE, having not lost a single game out of five matches during the 2014 edition when the first 20 matches of the tournament were staged in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah because of the general elections in India.
The team’s fortunes will depend heavily on Rahul and Kumble’s partnership and how they lead the team who will always feel the pressure of being one side in the competition with the tag of ‘laggards’. Rahul’s exceptional form and a cool head should help him as a leader and batsman, and in turn benefit the team.
Kings XI have always had a side to win the IPL but never really clicked as a unit. The pressure of having their backs to the wall and having to deliver at any cost might lean a bit too heavily on the players and can play a part in the team’s performance.
Squad: KL Rahul (captain and wicketkeeper) Chris Gayle, Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair, Sarfaraz Khan, Mandeep Singh, Sheldon Cottrell, Ishan Porel, Ravi Bishnoi, Mohammed Shami, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Arshdeep Singh, Hardus Viljoen, M Ashwin, J Suchith, Harpreet Brar, Darshan Nalkande, Glenn Maxwell, James Neesham, Chris Jordan, Krishnappa Gowtham, Deepak Hooda, Tajinder Singh Dhillon, Nicholas Pooran (wicketkeeper), Prabhsimran Singh (wicketkeeper).
Support staff: Anil Kumble (head coach), Andy Flower (assistant coach), Wasim Jaffer (batting coach), Jonty Rhodes (fielding coach), Charl Langeveldt (bowling coach), Andrew Leipus (physiotherapist), Adrian Le Roux (strength and conditioning coach).