After a star-studded glitzy magnum opus opening ceremony to kick-start IPL 6, fans across the length and breadth of the country are buzzing with excitement. It is that time of the year, when in offices, bus-stands, or while travelling in a tuk-tuk, one is forced to listen to all sorts of expert analysis about the beautiful game. Every year, IPL rekindles the flames of passion in cricket fans.
Tomorrow, Kings XI Punjab will start their campaign in IPL 6 with a match against Pune Warriors India. Unfortunately, in recent times, Punjab’s raucous fans haven’t had much to salivate in terms of their team’s performances. After an impressive run in the first edition of IPL in 07/08, when they reached the semifinals, Punjab haven’t exactly set the IPL on fire. During the last few seasons, they have been blowing hot and cold.
Most batsmen at Subrata Roy Sahara stadium have found it a slightly tricky wicket for batting, as last year, it tended to grip for the slower bowlers to come into play very early in the innings. It has also tended to stay low. An ideal t/20 wicket should have even bounce with batsmen being able to play shots on the up. Hopefully, the track at Sahara stadium would have settled down this year.
Azhar Mahmood – The talented all-rounder, Azhar Mahmood, is nowadays sadly a journeyman who plies his trade across the globe in various t/20 leagues. In the last few years, he has played for Kent, Auckland Aces, Barisal Burners, Cape Cobras, Sydney Thunders, Wayamba United and Kings XI Punjab.
The 38 year old has matured as a cricketer. Azhar Mahmood is no more the young firebrand all-rounder, who burst onto the scene with those thundering drives played on one knee against South Africa at Durban in 97/98. These days, he understands the importance of rotation of strike. As a bowler, he uses clever changes of pace to keep the batsman on tenterhooks. The street-smart all-rounder is also a master at bowling dry lengths. Having done his apprenticeship by playing county cricket for Surrey and Kent, here is a cricketer who knows his game inside-out. Whenever the Punjab team finds themselves on a sticky wicket, they will look up to the charismatic all-rounder to launch a rescue mission.
Adam Gilchrist – At the age of 40, Gilchrist may struggle to play those thrill-a-minute knocks that he once played for Australia. But the wicket-keeper batsman can help the side as a mentor. By playing the role of a mentor, he can supplement the youthful exuberance in the side with his wealth of knowledge and experience.
Ryan Harris – The injury prone Ryan Harris has served the Punjab team well over the years. He can bowl dry lengths and zoom in on the stumps with precision. He is a vital cog in the line-up, as Indian batsmen generally struggle to play horizontal bat-shots against back of a length bowling. He along with Awana have to lead the pace attack.
If Pune Warriors India are again going to open the batting with Uthappa and Pandey, both Harris and Awana may pepper them with back of a length bowling. In their game against Sunrises Hyderabad, Pandey and Uthappa struggled to come to grips with back of a length stuff. If the quicks don’t strike early then, Gilchrist should waste no time, and go for the jugular by bringing on the spinners. Unfortunately, Punjab doesn’t have decent left arm spinners in their arsenal. In t/20 cricket, a good slow left arm spinner is like a gold dust.
If the conditions at Sahara stadium are like what we saw last year, they may take a gamble with Harmeet Singh, as he mixes up the pace well. If they can somehow find a place for Mascarenhas, Punjab can trouble Pune Warriors India even more, as he too can be a threat at Sahara stadium. But as in IPL, only four foreigners can be picked, it won’t be easy to fit him into the final XI. The conundrum of which four foreign players to pick is something that Punjab’s think-tank have to live with during the entire tournament.
As Punjab have the experienced swing bowler Praveen Kumar in their squad, Sandeep Sharma may not play tomorrow, but if he plays in this tournament, watch out for him. He is said to be a fine prospect who swings it both ways, and bowls with decent control.
The major problem for Punjab is that they depend too much on their overseas imports to deliver the goods. Punjab still should fancy their chances against a Pune side that isn’t exactly brimming with confidence after a rather tepid performance against Sunrises Hyderabad.