The carnival is back in town this Wednesday – and we’re down to profiling our final two teams of the edition: the defending champions and a team that has finished last twice in the last three years. The Sunrisers defied expectations and team balance to win the title last year – Hyderabad’s second title after the Deccan Chargers won in 2009 – and Kings XI Punjab suffered and finished as the wooden spooners.
Captain: Glenn Maxwell
Coach: Virender Sehwag
Overseas Buys: Eoin Morgan, Martin Guptill, Darren Sammy, Matt Henry
For two years in a row now, the Kings XI Punjab have overtaken the Delhi Daredevils as the team that just cannot win. They have finished last in 2015 and 2016, after being the ‘fairytale story’ of 2014 when they reached the final under coach Sanjay Bangar and lost in the final to Kolkata Knight Riders. Wriddhiman Saha, India’s current Test wicketkeeper, had become the first batsman to score a century in an Indian T20 League final – and the team, led by Glenn Maxwell’s stunning batting, had won hearts with their devil-may-care attitude and young bowling performances (led by Sandeep Sharma, who is still a loyalist). Largely a middling team, they began the tournament back in 2008 with a bang, reaching the semifinals after topping the league table. Shaun Marsh was the name then – 673 runs, the top scorer of the season and their MVP. But apart from that year and the final in 2014, Punjab have consistently underperformed, and not because of average players, but clueless team balances and a lack of direction. More often than not, this team has looked the most lost during the second half of the season – an upset win here and there, and they always finish their campaign in the bottom half.
They will look to turn that around this year. Murali Vijay is out with an injury, and Glenn Maxwell, who made a return to the Australian Test team recently, is the new captain. He joins Steve Smith (Rising Pune Supergiants) and David Warner (Sunrisers Hyderabad) this year as Aussie captains of Indian franchise sides.
X-factor: David Miller
Who can forget the South African big-hitter’s belligerent century off 38 balls in the 2013 edition against the Royal Challengers Bangalore – one of the most stunning innings in T20 history. Miller remains the bedrock of the middle order, but hasn’t performed as consistently as he may have liked over the last few seasons.
Probable XI: Hashim Amla, Martin Guptill/Shaun Marsh, Manan Vohra, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Wriddhiman Saha, Gurkeerat Singh, Axar Patel, Mohit Sharma, Sandeep Sharma, Thangarasu Natarajan
Captain: David Warner
Coach: Tom Moody
Overseas Buys: Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Chris Jordan, Ben Laughlin
The Sunrisers recovered from a heartbreaking 2015 season, when it came down to their last game against Royal Challengers – and they eventually finished sixth and didn’t qualify – to come from behind in 2016 and win the tournament despite finishing fourth in the table. They survived solely on David Warner’s batting form and the seaming duo of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Bangladesh sensation Mustafizur Rahman, and powered through the eliminators and the final – defeating machine Virat Kohli’s RCB in the final. In the four seasons they’ve played so far, the team has gone through the league stages twice, and finished sixth twice. Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s death bowling remains crucial to their chances, given that they’ve let go of Trent Boult, and he will be joined by specialist Chris Jordan to keep the runs down. Warner had a terrible Test series in India last month, but somehow always finds his form in this premier T20 tournament. If he gets injured or if he is scratchy, this team has nobody to fall back on except Shikhar Dhawan. The two Afghanistan bowlers they’ve picked will also be useful at some point, given that Pravin Tambe is their only other spinner.
X-factor: Yuvraj Singh
Yuvi came back in form in the ODI series against England with a stunning 150, and has found second wind at age 35. He has underperformed in this tournament ever since he was chosen as the most expensive player a few years ago. His fitness will come under the scanner, too, given that he will be picked in India’s ODI side for the Champions Trophy in England.
Probable XI: David Warner, Shikhar Dhawan, Moises Henriques, Yuvraj Singh, Deepak Hooda, Naman Ojha, Chris Jordan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ashish Nehra, Rashid Khan, Abhimanyu Mithun
Prediction: Top four