The 2023 season for Punjab Kings (erstwhile Kings XI Punjab) was reminiscent of their previous campaigns: Starting the season with expectations, big-money purchases, flashes of individual brilliance through two months, yet ending up with disappointment.
Having ardently followed the Punjab outfit since the first season in 2008, one can say that the team has quite possibly contributed to one’s above-normal blood pressure.
The major reason has been the inconsistent approach by the team management — buying players at high prices, but not backing them; and not having a proper lineup and too many changes. In contrast, a well-managed team like the CSK creates a balanced first team at the beginning of the season and then sticks with it.
Another major contrast with CSK is its lack of identity, which stems from not having a proper Indian core. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja have been the mainstay of CSK, like Virat Kohli for Royal Challengers Bangalore and Rohit Sharma for Mumbai Indians. Their teams/franchises have built a great culture and a connection with their fans, which hasn’t been the case with Punjab.
In 2021, the team’s name was changed. Along with that, the management changed the jersey and the logo. The changes were uninspiring, and the team became a butt of jokes. It had several former RCB players at the time, and was derided as ‘RCB-lite’.
During the KXIP days, the logo had the letters ‘KJHPH’ on top, standing for Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab. Yet, the team failed to be home for players from the region. Clearly, the management didn’t understand from the beginning that having a unique identity is essential for the brand.
There have been numerous players, both high-profile and relatively unknown, who could have been the mainstays of the team. The most obvious one was Yuvraj Singh from the first season itself, but he was unceremoniously shunted out after being stripped of captaincy in 2010. Years later, he spoke about wanting to “run away from the franchise”.
The irony is that he was bought back years later in 2018. The same thing happened with Glenn Maxwell, who was the star player in 2014, the most successful season of the franchise. He was inconsistent as well, but he wasn’t backed and not retained ahead of the 2018 season. He was then bought back in 2020 when, surprisingly, he was left out of the must-win last match of the league. Ahead of the 2021 season, he was again released.
There are others who didn’t get the respect they deserved. Mayank Agarwal, who was the captain in 2022, was not retained in 2023. Chris Gayle publicly criticised the franchise for being insensitive towards him.
Too many cooks
Over the years, Punjab’s decision-making has been very erratic, seemingly due to interference from the management and uncertainty over regular coaches/captains. Shikhar Dhawan became the team’s 13th full-time captain in 2023 — 13 is an absurd number of captains for 16 seasons. And there have been many temporary captains as well. The case of the coaches is similar, and there is just too much instability. This shows in team selection, in every match there are two-three changes in the lineup.
Despite so many changes over the years, the one thing that has remained consistent is its mid-table spot. After 2018, the team has ended up 6th on the points table. By the end of each season, a Punjab fan is well-versed with the results of every other team as they could potentially affect Punjab’s playoff chances — he tries to work out the various scenarios to ensure qualification. Even if all hypothetical scenarios work out in favour of Punjab, the players just don’t have the mental fortitude to do their part by winning matches.
The team has always gone all-out in auctions and made expensive buys, most recently Sam Curran, the most expensive purchase in the IPL. Yet, the team has never had true balance — they always seemed a batter or a bowler short. Lack of all-rounders and decent experienced Indian players have been major issues. The issue persists. In fact, this season, the team even played with not a single capped Indian batsman in a couple of matches.
Ironically, the team lacks balance even with the impact player rule in place. Just big money buys and depending on foreign players to bail you out is simply not enough.
Maybe from the next season, the team could focus on the basics like having stability, backing players, and going ahead with a core which could stay with the team for long.
But if history has shown anything, with this team, it’s the hope that kills you.
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