Punjab fall just short again
Kings XI Punjab had to shell out $1.4m for David Hussey's services, but it proved to be money well spent. Whether it was as a finisher or as a stabiliser, Hussey's game proved malleable to the match situation. With Adam Gilchrist ruled out of much of the season with a hamstring tear, Hussey took over the leadership and inspired his younger team-mates like Mandeep Singh. His offspinners weren't on view often, though it did prove a game-changer in at least one match.
At $200,000 Azhar Mahmood was a cut-price purchase. After the troubles with his visa were sorted, Mahmood became an integral part of the XI, showing that even at 37, he was a formidable force in Twenty20s. In a tournament where the death-bowling has been abysmal, Mahmood was a reliable performer late in the innings, regularly tricking batsmen with his slower ball. He hasn't been a slouch with the bat either, entering the tournament with 14-ball 33 against Royal Challengers Bangalore and finishing with a steadying 36 against Delhi Daredevils.
Another contender in this category is uncapped fast bowler Parvinder Awana, who went on to become their highest wicket-taker this season.
Hard to pick anyone for this category at a tight-fisted franchise like Kings XI. Unlike others, they didn't make any big-money buys to shake up the XI. Their wage bill was possibly less than last year as they sold off the $900,000-rated Dinesh Karthik and brought in a load of inexpensive players. The costliest acquisition this season was Mahmood at a measly (by IPL standards) $200,000, and he turned out to be a shrewd investment.
Halfway through the season, Kings XI had only three wins, and were playing to pre-tournament expectations by being stuck at No.8. The tailspin seemed set to continue against Chennai Super Kings, when they blundered to 156, after having been 97 for 1 in the 12th over. Super Kings' openers cruised to 47 by the sixth over, before Mahmood started the fightback, dismissing both openers with his slower ball. Piyush Chawla then showed his resilience, taking 2 for 20 and choking the middle order just three days after a confidence-shattering, match-losing penultimate over against Mumbai Indians. Even the depth of Super Kings' batting, with Albie Morkel at No. 8, wasn't enough to overcome Kings XI, who in the absence of superstars once again turned in a team effort to outpunch heavier opponents.
After completing the difficult job of beating both Super Kings and Royal Challengers Bangalore away in the space of five days, Kings XI were in the top four for the first time in the season. They had a chance to build on that momentum when they came up against a Rajasthan Royals side that had lost four in a row, the last of which had been a hiding at the hands of Daredevils. Instead, Kings XI imploded, going down by 43 runs. Their captain Hussey summarised the performance: "I don't think our bowlers were that flash, I don't think our fielding was that flash. I think the batting needs a bit of work as well."
Inconsistent. They never managed to win more than two games in a row. Kings XI beat four of the top five teams on the road, but their home record was unflattering, victorious in only three matches. For the third time in four seasons, they had a chance of qualifying as the final round of league games started and, as on the previous two occasions, they blew it, surrendering to Daredevils in Dharamsala.
One of the bright spots in their campaign was that the highest run-getter and highest wicket-taker for Kings XI were both young, uncapped Indians. At the start of the tournament, Kings XI seemed to have one of the weakest of Indian contingents, especially after the sale of Karthik to Mumbai Indians. Mandeep Singh, all of 20 years old, stepped up as an opener while Awana extended his success in the Ranji season to the IPL as well.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo