IPL 2021: Rejigged Punjab set for Royal battle

Ayaz Memon/Mumbai
Filed on April 11, 2021
Jos Buttler is ready for battle against Punjab. — Twitter

A lot will depend if Stokes, Buttler and Morris can pull their weight

Bewilderment and awe was widespread when Rajasthan Royals bid Rs 16.25 ($2.25 million) for Chris Morris in the last auction. The lanky South African all-rounder, who had become a journeyman T20 player across the world, had been a regular fixture in the IPL over the past few years, but nobody expected him to evoke such demand.

RCB chased him till the bidding crossed Rs 10 crore, then backed off. But Punjab Kings kept in the hunt till the price reached Rs 16 crore before RR clinched the issue upping the ante by a further Rs 25 lakh, making Morris the highest paid overseas player this season.

RR’s tactics may have surprised some, more so because they have usually been frugal with money spent on player and had in fact off-loaded star batsman-captain Steve Smith in the same auction. But when you look back, the franchise has always chosen to be off the beaten path.

In the inaugural IPL season (2008), they put together a team full of rookies under Shane Warne. The talent cost compared to other teams was lowest, but the team, under Warne’s inspiring and dynamic captaincy went on to win the title.

Since then RR have been luckless and also copped a two-year ban for corruption. But every season they’ve played, it’s been marked by adventurous experimentation. Apart from buying Morris at an exorbitant price, this season young Sanju Samson has been made captain.

In the past few years, RR have added some formidable overseas names — Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Joffra Archer — in an effort to win the title again, but haven’t made much headway. Can it be different this year?

A lot will depend if Stokes, Buttler and Morris can pull their weight, how quickly Archer starts playing, and of curse how Samson manages his batting as well as captaincy. Support from all-rounders like Rahul Tewatia will also be crucial.

Punjab Kings have also rejigged their squad a fair bit, most notably letting go of Glenn Maxwell, and instead spent big money on Aussie pacemen Jhye Richardson and Riley Meredith, and batsman Dawid Malan, all of whom excelled in the Big Bash League.

Their overseas quotient includes evergreen Chris Gayle, stroke-spitting, six-hitting blaster from the Caribbean Nicholas Pooran and T20 specialist bowler Chris Jordan. Nevertheless, most crucial to their success are three Indian players, K L Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and Mohamed Shami.

Rahul and Agarwal formed the best opening pair the previous season, and Punjab will hope their form continues. When these two were at their best and Shami was in good rhythm, the team looked the best in the tournament — till they unexpectedly hit a roadblock. Against RR, as will be recalled.

In that match, Tewati, who had scored 5 runs off 13 deliveries, went on to smash 53 of 31, not only inflicting an improbable defeat on Punjab, but also shattering the confidence of the team for the remainder of the tournament.

Punjab lost both matches to RR the last season, and with that sank their hopes of winning a maiden title. Since then, there has been some change in players, and a tweak in the name of the franchise. How much of a difference this makes to their fortunes remains to be seen.

Players To Watch Out For:

RR: Chris Morris, Sanju Samson, Ben Stokes

Punjab Kings: K L Rahul, Mohamed Shami, Mayank Agarwal

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