Adam Gilchrist and Paul Valthaty
Adam Gilchrist and Paul Valthaty

 

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

The King’s XI Punjab have made a remarkable turnaround after a very disappointing start to the Indian Premier League (IPL) season four. Three wins on the trot has now taken them to third spot in the leader board and they are looking really strong after every game. Their campaign so far has been very similar to the Rajasthan Royals’ campaign of 2008. It is too early in the league, but one cannot avoid making comparisons.

 

Rajasthan Royals stunned everybody during the IPL 2008 by winning the league. It was most unfancied of the eight teams, and apart from Shane Warne, it did not boast of having star players. They lost their first match comprehensively to the Delhi Daredevils and nobody gave them a chance after that. Then came one of the most remarkable turnarounds one would ever see. Warne got the best out of the international stars such as Sohail Tanvir and Shane Watson. The lesser-known Indian players such as Yusuf Pathan and Swapnil Asnodkar were given the license to express themselves. They just lost two more games in the whole tournament and clinched the inaugural IPL. This stunning campaign bagged them a nomination for the Laureus Sports Awards in the category of the “Best Team.”

 

When you look at the King’s XI Punjab of IPL season four, there are a lot of similarities to the Rajasthan Royals of 2008. With the exception of Adam Gilchrist, there are no major international stars in the team. If Rajasthan had Watson, King’s XI have Shaun Marsh (although he doesn’t bowl but can outscore the former with the bat). If Swapnil Asnodkar was the domestic star for the Royals, King’s XI have discovered Paul Valthaty who contributes with the ball as well. Sohail Tanvir bowled wicket taking spells for the Royals in the first season, the King’s XI Punjab look at Praveen Kumar to do that job. Similar to the Royals of 2008, they lost their first game quite comprehensively but are back with three wins in a row.

 

The franchise King’s XI Punjab has been through some tough times in last one year or so. They finished last in the previous edition of the IPL and for the rest of the year were embroiled in a controversy that was settled in the court late last year. When they lost their first game to the Pune Warriors this season, the mood in the camp wouldn’t have been very good. This is when the leader in Gilchrist and the young talent in Valthaty came to the forefront. Gilchrist made the decision to allow Valthaty to open the innings and express himself. Valthaty responded with a brilliant century. Such a performance is always required to lift the spirits of the team members. Brave captaincy from Gilchrist paid off and not just King’s XI but Mumbai cricket and possibly India have a player with a lot of talent.

 

In the two games after the Valthaty century, King’s XI have been more clinical. The win against the Deccan Chargers came at the cost of only two wickets, as they chased a target of 166 in just over 17 overs. Valthaty was the star again, not only scoring 75 but also picking up four crucial wickets. Gilchrist contributed with a fifty. He is the kind of a player who can fire anytime and that danger is always lurking at the start of every game. The World Cup final of 2007 is the best evidence of this fact. Against the Rajasthan Royals, King’s XI were even more clinical as they won by a margin of 48 runs.

 

Currently, this team is looking really strong. Valthaty is having a dream run and is followed by the in-form Marsh. Captain Gilchrist can fire anytime and there is always the danger that he would in the game to come. Apart from these players they have the likes of Dinesh Karthik and Abhishek Nayar who have shown the ability to finish games. They also have Ryan McLaren, a very useful all-rounder who can field brilliantly. In their reserves, they have David Huseey who is also a good finisher.

 

Their bowling mainly relies on Ryan Harris and Praveen Kumar who are natural wicket-takers. When they start getting wickets they get them in heaps. The support they have is not the strongest but if these two fire early, then it sets the tone for the others to chip in.

 

It is too early in the season to predict anything, but if the King’s XI Punjab can maintain this consistency and their star performers can continue their good run, we may see another campaign similar to the Royals of 2008. They have all that is necessary to challenge the other teams and till have looked similar to the first-ever IPL champions. Only time will tell how far they go and whether they can emulate the Rajasthan Royals.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.”)

 

Pictures © Getty Images & AFP