IPL Preview - Punjab Kings
Punjab Kings have been consistent in recent seasons, the problem for them is that they’ve been consistently average. In each of the last four seasons they’ve finished with six wins, unsurprisingly this hasn’t been enough to secure a play-off spot in any of those seasons. Like I’ve mentioned previously, failing to even reach a play-off spot at least once over the course of four seasons, is a really poor effort, considering the volatility of t20 cricket. To be honest though, this has been a theme for Punjab Kings ever since the introduction of the IPL, they’ve only managed to reach the play-offs twice in fourteen seasons and have played in the final just once, in 2014.
Historically, the bowling side of things has been what’s let them down and it’s an issue they’ve tried to fix over the last couple of seasons with big money overseas pace signings. Jhye Richardson & Riley Meredith were signed for a combined 22cr in 2021 and Sheldon Cottrell was purchased for 8.5cr in 2020 but none of these buys have been particularly successful.
Prior to the IPL retentions even being announced, we already knew former captain KL Rahul was leaving the franchise as he decided he wanted a different challenge - he joined Lucknow for a whopping 17cr. It left many wondering what Punjab Kings would actually do with their retentions, there wasn’t an obvious 15–16cr player to occupy that top retention slot. In the end, they decided to retain only two players; Mayank Agarwal (14cr) & Arshdeep Singh as an uncapped retention (4cr). Mayank will captain the side, his retention at 14cr was fair enough as he is a very good player, probably a little towards the steep side though. However, I can certainly understand their reasoning behind retaining him.
Perhaps the biggest blow to Punjab Kings was failing to find an agreement with Ravi Bishnoi to retain him. It always felt unlikely that he’d agree to an uncapped retention with them, which made things difficult as Punjab’s second retention would’ve been 10cr and despite being a big fan of Bishnoi, my max price for him probably would’ve been 6–7cr for him. So, unless Punjab felt they had a player worthy of a 10cr price tag (Pooran/Shahrukh Khan the only obvious possibilities) retaining Bishnoi always looked difficult.
Based on what I’ve said above it was a little strange to see Bishnoi agree a pre-auction deal with Lucknow at 4cr, his agent hasn’t really done his job properly there, he would certainly have fetched more than that at auction. Bishnoi to Lucknow, along with KL Rahul meant it was a double-swoop from former coach Andy Flower, who left Punjab to join Lucknow between seasons. On the topic of head coaches, Anil Kumble will once again lead the franchise, his official title is ‘head coach and director of cricket operations,’ a role which has been in since 2019. Therefore it’ll be the first time he has been at the forefront of mega auction planning and this is the team they’ve come up with:
Retained players: Mayank Agarwal & Arshdeep Singh.
- Jonny Bairstow - Involved in the England/West Indies test series. That game is scheduled to finish on March 28th and following that he’ll travel to India, to complete three days of quarantine before joining up with the squad. He’ll miss the first 2–3 games for Punjab.
- Nathan Ellis - In the squads for Australia’s white ball tour of Pakistan, will miss the first four games of the season.
- KG Rabada - Will possibly miss their first game, though I’m not 100% certain.
Heading into the auction Punjab had the highest purse of any team (72 cr), having only retained two players. They had far more hype amongst the twitter-sphere coming into this event, this was off the back of them employing Dan Weston to help with their recruitment/strategy for this season. Anyone that follows him on twitter will know his blueprint for t20 cricket but it was going to be interesting to see if he had the influence to imprint that on an IPL franchise.
It certainly looks like Weston has managed to have an impact, particularly in regards to the batting and he’s even managed to buy some of his favourites - Livingstone & Howell. Unlike many other teams, Punjab seemed to be willing to pick up good value local players at lower prices earlier on in the auction; the likes of Jitesh Sharma, Ishan Porel and Prabhsimran Singh were all picked up on day one, where many other teams were focusing on big-money signings. This has left Punjab with some really nice local squad depth in my opinion and they’re certainly one of the strongest teams in the tournament in this regard.
Of course, Punjab made some higher priced signings as well, as was expected with the remaining budget they had left heading into the auction. They didn’t mess around with that either, five guaranteed starters were purchased on day one; Shikhar Dhawan, Jonny Bairstow, Shahrukh Khan, Rahul Chahar & KG Rabada, for a total of 38.5cr. This was followed up with Liam Livingstone & Odean Smith on day two, before rounding up by adding more squad depth.
I was a little surprised to see them only sign seven overseas players, however, along as they can still maximise their potential overseas appearances it isn’t the end of the world.
When at full strength there looks to be two major selection talking points for Punjab Kings, with nine players ‘locked in’:
There is still one domestic middle order position and a domestic bowling slot up for grabs. The main possibilities for the batting spot are Prerak Mankad and Raj Angad Bawa, while there are more options for the bowling slot with Harpreet Brar, Sandeep Sharma, Vaibhav Arora and Ishan Porel will compete for that spot.
Bawa was is a left-hand batter that was part of the recent u19 World Cup winning squad for India, while Mankad is a RHB that has done well in recent SMA seasons, both can offer some part-time right-arm medium/medium fast with the ball. The decision here is basically the toss of a coin, they could go with either way. I don’t think it’s particularly essential to have a right or left hander, given the numbers players like Agarwal & Bairstow have against spin. If pushed for an answer, I’d probably lean towards Bawa.
For the bowling slot, this should be a non-spin bowler for me. Given they already have Rahul Chahar and Liam Livingstone in the team, the latter’s spin bowling ability seems to be constantly evolving and he probably needs to be considered as more than a part-time option these days. This leaves Arora, Porel & Sandeep Sharma as the main options and each of them offer something different. Considering the profiles of the other two pace bowlers in the starting XI (Rabada & Arshdeep) it does look like they need another powerplay bowling option. In theory, this could be all three players but I think given the speeds Sandeep Sharma bowls and slower balls being one of his main strengths, he might naturally transition to a predominantly middle overs bowler in t20’s, that’s just a hunch I have though.
The debate between Arora & Porel is an interesting one, Porel has done very well at domestic level in recent SMA seasons, while they were willing to go to a high-ish price for Arora. This can’t be used as an outright argument because we don’t know how high they would’ve been willing to go for Porel but they’ve clearly seen something they like with Arora as well. Indeed, his stats in domestic cricket have also been pretty good and he was picked up by KKR last season and there were rumours he swings the ball more than most in white ball cricket, unfortunately we didn’t see him in action so I can’t comment on that. Once again, this looks to be a relatively close call, though I think they’ll go with Porel initially.
It might be seen as a slightly contentious decision to leave out Harpreet Brar, who they paid 3.75cr for, I just don’t think he’s needed, he could be used for specific games against RH-heavy batting line ups.
Most of the roles look fairly set, though Bawa & Livingstone could certainly swap positions, depending on the situation. For the initial matches where Bairstow is missing, Punjab will turn to either of Prabhsimran Singh or Jitesh Sharma as their keeper option. Given a top-order player is more of a requirement as a Bairstow replacement, I’d probably go for Prabhsimran Singh. Jitesh Sharma has good numbers of late but the majority of that has come as a middle order player:
His numbers in the middle order batter have been outrageous, though it’s worth noting that the sample size is fairly small and all of those matches have taken place in the plate group of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, nevertheless, he is clearly a good boundary hitter. Where as Prabhsimran has played exclusively as an opener in the last three SMA seasons and already has a couple of good seasons under his belt, despite only being 21:
His boundary percentage seems to have a ceiling at the minute and that might go against him, I expect that’s something that he’ll be working on with the Punjab Kings coaching staff. He could either open or bat at three, I’d expect three would be most likely, though Mayank Agarwal would be more than capable of batting at three for a few games if needed. As for Bairstow’s overseas replacement, that will likely be Bhanuka Rajapaksa, who looks like a really nice pick up at a price of 0.5cr, perhaps going under the radar because he isn’t from a major nation. Team for initial matches:
If Rabada is missing, expect a straight swap with Benny Howell, which would extend the batting line up but leave them looking slightly short from a pace bowling side of things.
Boundary/six hitting - This feels like a non-negotiable with any Weston-influenced team/franchise. Importantly the players they’ve signed have the quality and shouldn’t have any struggles adapting to IPL level. Four of their top five, (potentially top four, depending on where Livi bats) are international-level players. It’s a top order that can only be rivalled by a few teams. All of the established players in their likely batting order (by that I mean players with enough data to judge) have boundary percentage of above 17%, Dhawan has the lowest with 17.09%, though his has been over 18.5 in three of the last four IPL seasons. In addition to this, all of them apart from Dhawan are above average six hitters.
Local player depth - I’ve already touched on this briefly but Punjab did really well here, they’ve picked some of the best-performing players in SMA tournaments and haven’t had to pay a premium to do so. If we look at the ‘pace’ bowlers they’ve picked up, all of them are well above average:
The likes of Sandeep Sharma and Ishan Porel have been some of the most successful in the tournament, while Arshdeep & Arora have also been impressive. Likewise, it’s similar for the batting side of things, though slightly less convincing:
Mankad, Shahrukh and Jitesh Sharma have been standout middle/lower order players and Prabhsimran has been one of the better top order players, with the volume of runs he has scored over the last two seasons also impressing. I believe his tally of 541 in the last two seasons is only bettered by Narayan Jagadeesan (568). Artharva Taide’ stats are less impressive but he is a player I like and could end up being a pretty good SLA bowler, in addition to being a LH batter, I like to think of him as Abhishek Sharma-lite currently. I also forgot to include Rishi Dhawan in the graph, his numbers were middling; average 29 and strike rate of 129. An added bonus to all of these impressive domestic performers is that most of them are relatively young, Rishi Dhawan is the only one over the age of 28.
Batting against spin - With a possible combination of left & right handers, in addition to some quality players of spin, Punjab look well set when it comes to batting against spin this season. Agarwal is one of the fastest scoring players against spin in the IPL and Bairstow/Livingstone are also good players of spin, though Livingstone is less proven in Asian conditions. Dhawan is also pretty good at attacking his spin match up, however, his numbers did drop off in this regard last season, Punjab will be hoping that was just as a consequence of the conditions.
Rabada as lead pacer - I like Rabada more than most pace bowlers, he is an incredible athlete and has been one of the best all-format bowlers over the last 5–6 years. Despite that, there’s no denying his IPL performances haven’t been as impressive as one would think:
Initially looking at these numbers you’d think I’m talking rubbish and the drop off hasn’t been as big as I’m implying. However, when you consider they’ve signed him as their primary overseas pacer, I’d be slightly concerned. Rabada has only had one truly world class season out of the four he has played in, in the rest he has been slightly above or below average depending on the season (in terms of economy rate). He has had two extremely good wicket taking seasons with the ball, though a lot of that work has been done at the death and I’m not convinced how important that actually is, in comparison to other phase performances. There is a weaker correlation between death overs bowling performance & win percentage in IPL, than any other phase. Below are his numbers in crucial phases:
His powerplay performances have been underwhelming, while his death overs ones have generally been better, though his economy rates jumped to over 9.5 in 19 & 20 against top 7 batters, to be fair I have no idea how this drop off would compare with other pace bowlers. His death overs numbers were also much worse in 2021, perhaps there is an element of bad luck there given his boundary percentage conceded stat only increased by 3%. Or was it regression to the mean after a couple of good years? His economy at the death for South Africa is slightly below 10rpo since 2019.
To summarise, Rabada isn’t a bad t20 bowler by any means but he isn’t elite. He has shown promise in various roles but hasn’t yet pieced it together regularly, he could yet achieve this. However, based on what we know, it looks Punjab really need him to be the attack leader, while bowling a high percentage of overs in crucial phases and I’m not sure he can do that currently, especially during powerplays.
Strength is a weakness? - I think it’s clear that Punjab Kings batting looks to be their much stronger suit. The problem with this is that there is generally a stronger correlation between win percentage and bowling economy rate over the course of a season, than win percentage and batting economy rate. I’ve tried to show this with a graph that ended up looking messier than expected:
I also do wonder how the edge of boundary hitting in the IPL compares to other leagues. Particularly this season, where we have a ten team IPL and the skill gap looks narrower than ever. I’m honestly not sure there’s ever been a tournament that looks as closely contested as this one. This Punjab team will be an interesting case study to see how much of an edge you can gain from having a clear boundary-hitting batting approach at a higher level tournament.
Powerplay bowling - As already touched on, Rabada generally struggles to take wickets in this phase, while Arshdeep has done welll from wicket taking point of view, he has been slightly expensive (ER 8.05, SR 19.5). Although, a lot of that wicket taking threat has come between overs 5–6, with a strike rate of 13 in those overs, in comparison to 29 in overs 1–4. I think this leaves quite a lot of pressure on whichever domestic pace bowler comes into the side, they’ve all got good numbers in SMA tournaments but can they bring immediate success at IPL level?
Shikhar Dhawan - Hesitant to call it a comeback story because he has always been a good player but Dhawan’s improvement in t20’s has been noteworthy in the last few years:
His scoring numbers have improved significantly and he has still managed to retain the stability he had in previous seasons. He probably had to improve, otherwise he would’ve risked losing his place as an IPL regular, with t20 scoring rates rising. He is a very well-rounded player and doesn’t have an obvious weakness; his lowest strike rate against a specific bowling type (where we have decent sample sizes) is 124 (offspin) and lowest average is 23 (leg spin) but he also strikes at above 140 against leg break bowlers.
Mayank Agarwal - Punjab will be hoping their newly-appointed opener can continue along a similar trajectory to the one has seen in previous seasons, where he has been one of the best IPL openers:
As you can see, when opening Agarwal has been the fastest scorer of players that meet the number of innings requirement. I say when opening, because he has also batted at three sometimes, his numbers are slightly worse in this position (Average 33, SR 143), though that’s still impressive. It’s something he may have to do in the initial matches this season. Agarwal is a slightly curious player though, you’d think his powerplay numbers would be better for someone that seems to be fairly proactive when he bats, in reality, a strike rate of just below 125 in the last three seasons isn’t all that impressive. He isn’t a particularly slow starter (first 10 balls SR of 131), which is above average but he actually slows down during overs 5 & 6, a point in the game where openers will generally be looking to accelerate:
It’s certainly an interesting one and I’m scratching my head to think of a cause of this. One possible reason, is teams could be bringing back their better bowlers for these overs or more enforcer-style of bowler, which could exploit his game against high pace. Mayank has a strike rate of 117 against 140+ pace in IPL since 2018. I should add that while the above graph does make him look like a relatively slow starter, he has only facing around five balls per innings between overs 1–2, due to KL Rahul almost always taking strike for the first delivery of the innings.
What isn’t in doubt, is his post-powerplay acceleration, where is fast-scoring nature against spin takes over:
It can’t be understated how impressive these numbers are, Agarwal has been so much better than the rest in this phase. Importantly, this has held up across multiple seasons; his strike rate has been above 160 between overs 7–11 in each of the last three seasons, so he has also done it in conditions that favour spin.
Jonny Bairstow - The graph above leads me on nicely to the next player - Jonny Bairstow, who also ranked really nicely when it came to post powerplay acceleration. Bairstow has shown in white ball cricket for England that he is an extremely versatile player and can bat anywhere in the top four really. He should mostly bat at three for Punjab which looks like the perfect position for him, his death overs acceleration, one of the weaker parts of his game could be an issue at times while batting at four. Has been a very secure starter in IPL matches, averaging over 60 in his first ten balls, though the majority of those games have come as an opener. Very good against spin and will almost certainly take on his spin matchup if you’re silly enough to bowl that against him.
Raj Angad Bawa - Don’t know that much about him, apart from a few clips I’ve seen in the under 19 WC. Scored 162, while batting at four in one of the games and looks like he’s able to generate decent enough speeds with the ball. Not certain to play.
Liam Livingstone - Hopefully he’ll have more success than his most recent IPL stint last season, where he managed just 42 runs in five innings. He came into the second leg of the IPL in red-hot form, so his output was very surprising, though I can’t work out why Rajasthan didn’t play him every game. In addition to this, they also chose to bowl Glenn Phillips ahead of him as a match up spinner, a simply mind-boggling decision. Livingstone’s bowling continues to improve and he should perhaps be considered more than a part-time option these days. Personally, I would like to see him bowl more leg spin to left handers as well. Overall, he is a stronger player against pace, so it’ll be interesting to see where he bats, his numbers certainly drop off in what would be perceived to be more spin-friendly conditions:
It’s a big drop, both in terms of average and strike rate, while the sample size is much smaller it’s definitely something worth noting. Might be more suited to batting at five.
Shahrukh Khan - Given the lack of domestic options for this role, it felt like Punjab had to get him really. They possibly overpaid for him slightly but in terms of starting XI quality finishers, the other options didn’t really exist domestically. His numbers in domestic cricket, both in the Vijay Hazare & Syed Mushtaq Ali trophies have been excellent, even though he struggled to translate that to IPL level in his debut season last time out, I’d expect better returns this time around.
Odean Smith - An impact player in the truest sense, if it’s consistency you’re after, you’re signing him for the wrong reasons. Odean has burst onto the scene after an impressive CPL in 2021, since then he has played in the t10 tournament, played regularly for West Indies in white ball cricket, was signed by Multan for the PSL, though he didn’t end up playing in the competition and now he has an IPL deal. Although it’s a small sample size, data suggests he is an incredible six hitter and I’ve seen multiple comments from players in his team(s) talking about how far he can hit the ball. He was also the most regular hitter of sixes during the t10 tournament, an impressive feat given the calibre of players involved in the most recent tournament:
He also struck at a ridiculous rate of 285 in that tournament, only one other players has scored at above 250 in a t10 season (min 40 balls faced) and that was Andre Russell (272). He might not have the range of shots that other elite power hitters have but in terms of raw power, he is up there with the best.
With the ball, he is capable of reaching speeds of 145–150 regularly and bowled a couple of spells in the CPL that looked seriously quick. Unfortunately they were trying new ways of measuring speed and the ball tracking wasn’t always the most accurate. He’s fairly erratic with the ball but as a middle overs enforcer he can certainly do a job, which I expect will be his main role; two through the middle and maybe one at the death. I don’t think he’ll bowl four overs too often. Given his wicket taking ability, there could be a temptation to bowl him in the powerplay on occasion, however, I’m not sure he has the skillset to do this and I’d only consider it if the opposition top order has a weakness against pace.
Rahul Chahar - Looks like a pretty good signing for 5.25cr, I was expecting him to go for somewhere in the 6–6.5 region. He isn’t an elite leg spinner by any means, at the age of 22, he has plenty of time to develop. Generally has much more of a wicket taking threat against right handers, strike rate of 18 against RHB, in comparison to 28 against LHB in the IPL since 2018. Stats have been great when he is played in the SMA trophy, with an impressive strike rate of 13.6. I’d be fairly happy with this signing if I were a Punjab Kings fan.
Kagiso Rabada - It’ll feel like I’ve been fairly critical of Rabada in this preview, though that isn’t necessarily with him specifically, the issue is more with the role he’ll have to play for Punjab. For example, last season at Delhi was arguably the perfect set up for him, with Avesh Khan and Nortje capable of taking care of crucial phase overs, allowing Rabada to attack through the middle, if needed. In contrast to his role at Punjab, where he’ll likely operate in a 2–1–1 or 2–0–2 role, which I’m not sure suits his current skillset as a t20 bowler. Having said that he’s capable of having above average IPL seasons and if he could have one here, that would be of massive benefit to Punjab. Pretty quick - average speed of 139 and 57% of his deliveries are over 140kmph.
Arshdeep Singh - It’s been a relatively steep learning curve for Arshdeep in t20’s at the level, he was essentially chucked in at the deep end for Punjab, tasked with bowling crucial overs at both ends of an innings, in the absence of multi-phase overseas bowler for them in recent seasons.I always find it quite difficult to rate ‘pace’ bowlers like him, that don’t necessarily have the ball speed to regularly trouble batters. He is probably slightly overrated, though that isn’t to say he’s a bad bowler, I just think the general cricket public have hyped him a bit too much. Here is how he compares to other pace bowlers in the previous two seasons:
As you can see, he is slightly below average in terms of economy rate but his wicket taking ability has been excellent. He has also bowled quite a high percentage of his overs in crucial phases, with 79%, only six pace bowlers (that have bowled at least 300 deliveries) have a higher percentage. Arshdeep definitely isn’t the quickest, with an average speed of 129 and roughly a quarter of his deliveries are above 135. In conclusion, I think his retention at 4cr is fair enough and there’s enough to work with, probably isn’t as good as some think.
Ishan Porel - Possibly the most likely of the domestic pacers to start the tournament. We know that Weston is a big fan of him and his numbers in SMA back that up. Has been in the Punjab Kings squad over the past couple of seasons but only played one game.
Bhanuka Rajapaksa - I’m a fan of this signing, for 0.5cr, Rajapaksa looks like great value, given his skillset. There aren’t loads of middle/lower order LHBs anyway but Rajapaksa is one of those and he’s fast-scorer against pace as well as being pretty good when it comes to taking on his spin match up. Looking at the numbers it’s hard to know why there is such a big price difference between him and someone like Shimron Hetmyer.
Benny Howell - A reliable performer in England for years in the t20 blast. Many questioned whether a player of his style could adapt to a higher level tournaments, so far, he has answered those questions, with his opportunities finally starting to increase during the last 12 months, having played in the Hundred & t10 competition as well as a brief PSL stint. In both of these competitions he did well and was among the better bowlers. He’s generally very good at restricting boundaries and often ranks near the top in this regard in most tournaments he plays in, though it’s helped by the overs he bowls. His batting is also useful and it’s becoming even more useful:
There has been a clear improvement in his power-hitting numbers, particularly in terms of six hitting and it’s something that Howell has specifically worked on. I’m not expecting him to get significant game time this season, his story is a great one though.
Nathan Ellis - A more death overs-orientated bowler, which you’d say makes him a point of difference in this squad. His numbers in this phase have typically been very good, only a couple of players have faired better in the BBL. Looks like he’ll mostly be a backup to Rabada though.
Prabhsimran Singh - Perhaps unlucky not to have had more chances at IPL level, when you consider the likes of Padikkal & Gaikwad have both had full seasons. While Prabhsimran probably isn’t as good as those two, his numbers in terms of run-scoring in domestic cricket haven’t too far away from them.
Sandeep Sharma - Possibly one of the more underrated IPL bowlers, maybe it’s because of his lack of pace, even still, Sandeep has been a reliable option for the majority of the last decade in the IPL. More recently, he has found opportunities harder to come by, a little harsh in my view. Lack of swing with the white ball in recent years has possibly been a reason for this. His powerplay effectiveness has massively reduced in recent years (SR of 39 since 2018), this is in comparison to a strike rate of 19 his IPL career pre-2018. As a result, I think Sandeep is at an interesting point in his t20 career, he probably doesn’t have the pace to bowl regularly at the death but can he transition to a middle overs bowler? I think with his skillset and variety of slower balls he can and in the right bowling attack he could still provide a positive impact.
Harpreet Brar - Quite an expensive signing for an orthodox spinner, considering his batting ability is limited. However, we did see quite a few SLA bowlers go for higher prices than expected. His bowling is impressive though and he’s generally quite quick through the air. Given the make up of the rest of their side he wouldn’t make my first choice XI, he can certainly be an option against RH heavy batting line ups though.
Player stats sheet:
To summarise, I think this IPL is an extremely difficult tournament to predict anyway given the expansion to a ten team tournament but the success of this Punjab side seems harder to judge than most. The batting quality is obviously there, particularly the top order at full strength, looks to be one of the strongest in the tournament. However, the bowling is leaving a bit to be desired for me. I think new ball wickets could be an issue and they don’t necessarily have any top class bowlers in other phases to compensate for that. The general approach of being a better batting unit isn’t considered to be the optimal one for t20’s, although that isn’t to say you can’t be successful as a stronger batting side. CSK winning the tournament last year would be a very recent example of that, you’d certainly say that their batting looked a lot stronger than their bowling on paper, yet they managed to make it work.
I’m expecting there games to be extremely high scoring and for any neutrals, they should be a very exciting side to watch. They also look to be primed for success in the future, having recruited a lot of talented domestic players, in terms of immediate success, I’m less certain. They’re certainly capable of reaching the play offs, as most teams in this IPL are but I don’t think they’ll win the tournament this year. I could realistically see them finishing anywhere from 3rd to 7th/8th, they’ll likely be a very volatile team and I’m really struggling to predict where they’ll finish this season. If pushed for a prediction, I’d probably say they’ll just miss out on the play offs.
Thanks for reading!