In the second of our nine IPL team previews, we profile Kings XI Punjab for whom the captain-cum-mentor Adam Gilchrist will be their biggest source of motivation. The team's biggest challenge will be to deal with a lack of quality Indian players, which has shown them up in previous editions.
Name: Kings XI Punjab
Captain: Adam Gilchrist
Coach: Michael Bevan
Owner: KPH Dream Cricket Pvt Ltd
Cost of team: $76 million
Key players: A captain who can turn the tide from a last-place finish in one season to winning the silverware in the next has to be your biggest asset. Adam Gilchrist, who became the KXIP captain last season, achieved that feat for the Deccan Chargers and will be expected to resurrect Punjab's dwindling performance. Besides being a smash-hit at the top, Gilchrist, at 41, remains a clever operator when it comes to managing the troops, something Punjab have missed in the last three seasons.
Punjab's last season rode mainly on Paul Valthaty's explosive knocks at the top. If he can have Gilchrist on song with him at the other end, there could be problems aplenty for the other teams. Shaun Marsh has tasted monumental success in the IPL and will once again be expected to lead the middle order.
Praveen Kumar is clearly their bowling spearhead and can form a useful opening pair with Ryan Harris. Pakistan's Azhar Mahmood, who is now an English citizen, could prove to be the unsung allrounder – considering the amount of success he has had in England's domestic Twenty20 competition. And in Piyush Chawla, they have a shrewd wristspinner who can also wield the willow usefully.
Strengths: Gilchrist, as mentioned earlier, is Punjab's biggest source of motivation. One blazing knock off his bat can lift the whole unit and the consistency with which he can produce such innings could take Punjab deeper into IPL5. Gilchrist's ability to lead from the front can infuse the much-needed self-belief, which the franchise seemed to have lacked so far.
Weaknesses: The bench looks thin on quality Indian resources. Barring the names of Praveen, Chawla, Valtathy, Ramesh Powar and Abhishek Nayar, there aren't any domestic players who could be banked upon. And like last season, it could again prove to be Punjab's Achilles heel in 2012.
2011 performance: It was a promising start to the season for Punjab after the owners roped in Gilchrist from Deccan to lead the side. After losing the first match, three consecutive wins put Punjab back on track. However, the story afterwards was of hits and misses as they lost and won matches in blocks, eventually losing the play-offs race to the Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders.
It seemed the side wasn't able to cope up with the complete overhaul after the auction. Yuvraj Singh moved to Pune Warriors India amid controversial circumstances, Gilchrist was handed over the reins and quality Indian players were few in numbers. Those factors combined together, Punjab never achieved any level of consistency, turning the campaign into their third terrible season in a row after a semi-final appearance in 2008.
2012 prospects: Much will depend on their batting firepower at the top. The early top order hits form, the better for Punjab. That aspect of their team composition also makes them better suited to chase targets, which is how they orchestrated most of their wins last season.
Unlike last season, when they struggled to come to terms with a new team composition, we can expect the Kings to play a few notches higher. But it will again boil down to if they can develop the self-belief, which will be critical in pressure situations against the big guns.