Plagued by injuries and unavailability of a few foreign players, both Punjab Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders would still look to put their best foot forward as they lock horns in their opening IPL encounter here on Saturday.
These are the two franchises, which over the years have flattered to deceive. Inconsistency in team selections seemed to have also affected them badly.
While PBKS finished sixth, two-time champions KKR ended a rung below in the seventh spot in the 10-team competition last year. Both teams will be led by new skippers this season. While veteran Shikhar Dhawan will be at the helm of Punjab, domestic star Nitish Rana has replaced injured Shreyas Iyer as KKR captain. On paper, though, PBKS looks a tad stronger than KKR. But Englishman Jonny Bairstow’s absence will certainly leave a big void in Punjab’s team composition.
Bairstow has been ruled out of the entire IPL as he continues to recover from a leg injury he had sustained while playing golf last September.
In Bairstow’s place, PBKS has roped in BBL’s player-of-the-tournament this season, Matthew Short who is expected to open the batting alongside Dhawan.
Other key PBKS players, who will miss Saturday’s game are hard-hitting all-rounder Liam Livingstone, who is yet to get clearance from the ECB, following a knee injury, and South African Kagiso Rabada who is on national duty.
Zimbabwe’s Sikandar Raza is another utility all-rounder PBKS could bank upon.
But they would depend on Dhawan and Short to provide consistency at the top. On the bowling front, PBKS would miss Rabada on Saturday and in his absence the onus would be on Arshdeep Singh, old guard Rishi Dhawan, Curran and leg-spinner Rahul Chahar to do the job. The Mohali-based outfit would also rely on coach Trevor Bayliss’ tactical nous to shed their tag of perennial underachievers during the season.
PBKS has never won the IPL title in the last 15 years. The closest they came was a final appearance in 2014 and and semi-final defeat in the inaugural season.