Punjab Kings (formerly Kings XI Punjab) walked into the IPL 2021 Auction with the highest budget among all teams and made full use of that as they made some big-budget purchases like Jhye Richardson (Rs 14 crore), Riley Meredith (Rs 8 crore), and Moises Henriques (Rs 4.2 crore), among others.
How the Auction Progressed
Preity Zinta and co. were active right from the beginning of the auction. They were involved in the intense bidding for all-rounders like Moeen Ali, Chris Morris, and Shakib Al Hasan, but decided to let them go to other franchises in the end. Their first pick in the auction in Chennai was Dawid Malan, who is ranked No.1 in the ICC T20I batsmen's ranking. They bagged him at his base price of Rs 1.50 crore and seemed to be very happy with the acquisition and followed it up by buying Australian pacer Jhye Richardson for a massive price of Rs 14 crore.
It was clear that they were focused mainly on improving their fast bowling department – which was one of the main reasons for their struggles last season – as they bought another Australian pacer in Riley Meredith for Rs 8 crore soon after.
Punjab also bagged the experienced Australian all-rounder Moises Henriques at a reasonable price of Rs 4.2 crore but young domestic batting star Shahrukh Khan cost them Rs 5.25 crore. However, they compensated for that with the acquisition of West Indies all-rounder Fabian Allen at his base price of Rs 75 lakh.
To round it off, they ticked off the remaining areas left in the squad with the acquisition of domestic players like Jalaj Saxena, Utkarsh Singh, and Saurabh Kumar.
Issues Encountered Last Season
Punjab Kings had assembled a good squad last season but underwhelming performances from some of their big-budget overseas players like Glenn Maxwell, Sheldon Cottrell, and James Neesham saw them finishing sixth in the league standings.
While Maxwell amassed just 108 runs during the season at a dismal strike-rate of 101.88, Neesham didn't do much better as he mustered only 19 runs in three innings. He was expensive with the ball too, as he picked up just two wickets in five matches at an economy rate of 9.86. Sheldon Cottrell's bowling performance – six wickets in an equal number of matches at an economy rate of 8.80 – wasn't impressive either.
So they decided to change their core of overseas players ahead of the 2021 season and released five out of their eight overseas players. South African pacer Hardus Viljoen and Afghan spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman were released along with the likes of Maxwell, Cottrell, and Neesham, as they were surplus to their requirements.
Among the Indian players, Punjab decided to let go of senior players like Karun Nair and Krishnappa Gowtham, along with youngsters Jagadeesha Suchith and Tajinder Singh Dhillon, who were mainly in the squad as backups.
Analysing Punjab Kings’ Replacements
The first thing Punjab needed to improve this season was their death bowling. Their economy rate of 12.06 in the death-overs (17-20) last season was the second worst among all teams. Only Rajasthan Royals (12.21) had a poorer economy rate than them.
It looks like they have addressed that area pretty well now with the acquisition of two tearaway Australian pacers in Richardson and Meredith. Both of them are capable of cranking up speeds above 145 kph regularly and have the ability to bowl yorkers consistently as well. Their ability to bowl hard lengths on a hard Mohali deck will trouble the batsmen too.
Richardson registered the joint second-most number of wickets in the death overs (17-20) of the BBL 2020-21 season and he did so while registering an economy rate of just 8.76.
Meredith also did well registering a death overs economy of just 8.64 during the season while picking up four wickets at a strike-rate of 12.5.
Maxwell's performance was highly disappointing as well last season and Punjab will have high hopes from Fabian Allen, who seems like an upgrade to the Australian all-rounder going by recent form. Allen was with Sunrisers Hyderabad last season but he didn't get a game and was released from the squad last month.
He has played 32 T20 matches so far, but has already impressed everyone with his hard-hitting skills. He has registered two fifties in the format thus far and has a strike-rate of 159.21. He is quite an effective spinner too as his T20 numbers – 17 wickets at an economy rate of 7.85 – suggest.
Allen came up with some impressive performances in the recently concluded T10 as well. Not only did he pick up 11 wickets with his bowling but he played some vital cameos for his team as well. He will be looking to replicate that all-round performance for Punjab this season.
The acquisition of Dawid Malan mostly looks like a cover for Chris Gayle. In fact, Malan might end up playing more games than Gayle in IPL 2021 if the Caribbean batsman doesn’t find his form soon.
In the recently concluded T10 League, Gayle was dismissed cheaply in seven out of his eight innings. Punjab are clearly aware of his age and waning abilities, hence it was a good move to get Malan who is an equally good player of spin in the middle overs.
His pairing with Nicholas Pooran in the middle-order can give them the same success this season as they had with Pooran and Gayle last time.
One of Punjab’s main highlights of the auction was their interest in Tamil Nadu's young batsman Shahrukh Khan. The 25-year-old played some vital cameos in the lower middle-order during the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy last month, which attracted the attention of the scouts. His range of shots and ability to play the big shots on a consistent basis will give Punjab much-needed fire-power in their lower middle-order.
The addition of Jalaj Saxena as a replacement for Krishnappa Gowtham is refreshing as well. Saxena is a highly experienced domestic player and picked up 10 wickets in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy earlier this year, at an excellent economy rate of 6.26. He will give them some much needed variety and control in the spin-bowling department. Uttar Pradesh bowler Saurabh Kumar and 22-year-old all-rounder Utkarsh Singh look like good backup options as well.
Only the addition of Moises Henriques in place of James Neesham seems like a tricky decision. Henriques is quite similar to Neesham. The only added advantage is his experience of featuring in 57 IPL matches. He has a decent batting record too, having scored 969 runs at a strike-rate of 128.17 and at an average close to 30. Apart from this, the squad looks quite good to go all the way in the IPL 2021 season. On paper, this squad gives them their best chance of reaching the finals as compared to any season since 2014.
Punjab Kings’ Best Playing XI
KL Rahul (C & wk), Mayank Agarwal, Chris Gayle/Dawid Malan, Nicholas Pooran, Sarfaraz Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Fabian Allen, Jhye Richardson, Ravi Bishnoi, Murugan Ashwin/Jalaj Saxena, Mohammed Shami