Seldom has a T20 team, in all these years of the T20 League and Champion’s League cricket, captured a viewers’ imagination like this current Kings XI Punjab team. It has shades of the fairytale Rajasthan Royals first season victory, as well as the come-from-behind unlikely Champions KKR (2012 and 2014), as well as the inevitable transformative power of the Mumbai unbeatables from 2012.
Before this year, the Kings XI Punjab remained one of the most unsuccessful teams of IPL cricket, along with the Delhi Daredevils. Somehow, after the first season (semi-finals), they never quite got their balance right or act together, while their owners fell in and out with each other. In 2014, at the Auction, an unassuming man named Sanjay Bangar—otherwise a giant of domestic cricket—was put in charge of reshaping this franchise at the table.
His vision remained clear: retain the core, the good performers like Manan Vohra, David Miller, Shaun Marsh, and then bring in a host of in-form players—the Aussies mainly—along with a couple of unknown Indian bowlers, and a few veteran Indians in dire need of redemption.
As we speak, even though the Kings couldn’t quite win the league by going all the way, falling to a better-balanced KKR team in the final, they are already the toast of their first Champions League T20 tournament.
4 Group Games. 4 wins.
They’ve found themselves arguably in an easier group as compared to KKR and CSK (in the same group), but nobody would dare predict results in this tournament. Never has there been any clear favorite, but Kings XI—who have had the privilege of playing all their matches so far on home turf at Mohali—have not put a foot wrong.
They have stuck to their league strengths, and have executed their formula with clinical efficiency. As expected, there has been no single standout performer, and they’re even missing their best bowler in Johnson.
V/S Hobart Hurricanes
In the first match of the tournament, the Kings came against a team that was later to be the second best team of the group into the semifinals. Not many had given the Hurricanes a chance coming into this group with Cape Cobras and the very impressive New Zealand team Northern Districts (who won all of their qualifiers). But here they were, facing Kings XI Punjab in an underwhelming first match, quality far below par. The Hurricanes scored 144-6, and though Punjab were favorites to win with their batting strength, they lost Sehwag off the first ball and Vohra looked to be struggling. Luckily, it was the Aussies that came to the rescue—with Maxwell doing what he does best with a belligerent 44, and calm Bailey pulling them over the line with the help of the fourth overseas player Perera. Miller failed too, but it was a scratchy win for the Kings XI in their first game, against a team considered far inferior.
V/S Barbados Tridents
It wasn’t easy again, and once again it went down to the last over for the Kings—who managed to pull it off thanks to David Miller’s sensational 7th wicket partnership with Akshar Patel—who slammed a quickfire 22 to take his team across the line. Chasing a stellar 174, the Kings got off to a flier this time thanks to Sehwag and Vohra, and all of them got starts including Saha and Maxwell. This time, first match heroes Bailey and Perera failed, but it didn’t matter because it was truly Miller Time.
V/S Northern Districts
The most one-sided match in the history of the tournament. Kings XI decided to turn it on with the bat, for once batting first and going berserk. Sehwag and Vohra put on 102 in 51 balls, and there was no turning back. Perera came at 3 for a tiny cameo, but Maxwell failed again. It didn’t matter because Miller picked up from where he left off, helping his team to 215 big runs. In reply, Districts ran out of steam in the tournament finally, getting bowled out inside 13 overs for less than 100 runs. Vohra picked up his MoM, and the Kings didn’t care about Maxwell’s unpredictable bat anymore.
V/S Cape Cobras
After defeating teams from Australia, WI and NZ, it was time for SA to face the heat. The Cobras started strong with the bat, but went from 117/3 to 135 all out with 9 balls to spare. Of course, the Kings were favorites after Akshar Patel once again engineered a collapse. After another good start by the aggressive openers, with both contributing more than 20, this time it was IPL-final hero Saha’s chance to get some practice. A good unbeaten 42 was perfect for his confidence before heading into the semifinal, where in all likelihood they could face Dhoni’s CSK.
Prediction: Kings XI could just finish second best to KKR—who look the better bowling outfit again—but who can tell? This could just be their tournament, and with it, their year.