Misfiring overseas stars underline Kings XI debacle
Where they finished
Eighth, with four wins and ten defeats.
How they got there
Two years is a long time in sport. Ask Kings XI Punjab, who had an underwhelming season for a second time running despite retaining a core that played a key role in their march to the final in 2014. Like 2015, they finished this season, too, at the bottom of the table. The team made more news off the field than on it, and a mid-season captaincy switch from David Miller to M Vijay was the first sign of a creaking unit under pressure to deliver. When results marginally improved, the team was forced to deal with off-field issues.
Reports of heated verbal exchanges between a co-owner and the head coach were swirling around, in addition to bizarre selection strategies and criticism from one of their own players, Shardul Thakur, who vented his frustration after his release midway through the season. Shaun Marsh was ruled out due to a back injury, even as players strongly denied rumours of an alleged bust-up in the squad. The churn may have not directly affected their performance, but may have all added up to Kings XI's season of woes.
Mohit Sharma, Kings XI's most expensive Indian buy, at INR 6.5 crore, and Sandeep Sharma were arguably their biggest delights in a forgettable campaign. Sandeep used the width of both the creases to make his yorkers less predictable. Mohit added a yorker and an offcutter to his one big trick, the back-of-the-hand legcutter. The two played a leading role in three of the side's four wins this season. The pair played in all 14 games, and Sandeep ended as Kings XI's best bowler with 15 wickets, while Mohit picked up 13.
That the combined tally of Miller and Glenn Maxwell - 340 runs in 24 innings - was 113 short of their highest run-getter Vijay, puts their twin failures into perspective. By the time Hashim Amla was summoned as a replacement for Marsh, Kings XI's season was already headed downhill as they had won just two of their first seven games. As the season progressed, bowling - their stronger suit - came crashing down too, with the side conceding 211 in a 15-over game against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Axar Patel's inability to defend 22 off the last over against Rising Pune Supergiants was an apt summation of how rapidly the curtains came down on them.
- Kings XI's bowlers picked 10 wickets in the Powerplays, the least by a team this season. Kolkata Knight Riders topped the charts after the league phase, with 25 wickets in the same period.
- As well as Sandeep and Mohit bowled, Kings XI finished with the second-lowest dot-ball percentage for bowling teams after Royal Challengers Bangalore
- David Miller's average of 16.10 (161 runs) and strike-rate of 122.9 are his worst in any IPL season
- Vijay's four 50-plus scores in eight innings are the most by a Kings XI captain in a single season.
Delhi Daredevils should have cantered to a win in Mohali. They needed 54 off the last six overs with eight wickets in hand. Daredevils' middle order comprised Karun Nair, Carlos Brathwaite, Sam Billings, Chris Morris and Rishabh Pant, all of whom are capable of striking big when needed. Instead, they were undone by an outstanding display of end-overs bowling by Marcus Stoinis, Sandeep and Mohit. Kings XI's defence of 181 was all the more remarkable because they had to deal with dew as well. Daredevils finished at 172 for 5.
Their one-run loss to Royal Challengers in Mohali wasn't their worst defeat in terms of margins, but it left them deflated. Kings XI required 24 off the last two overs but Shane Watson varied his pace and lengths to concede seven in the penultimate over. Chris Jordan, playing his second IPL game, then offered hittable deliveries - full tosses and half-volleys, which Stoinis muscled for a six and four to bring the equation down to six off three deliveries. But the Australian allrounder could only muster a dot ball followed by two runs each off the next two balls to fall agonizingly short. That also meant Vijay's 57-ball 89, a fine exhibition of uninhibited hitting and calculated running between the wickets went in vain.
What they need most next season
While they may have unearthed Vijay, the captain, a stronger core of match-ready overseas professionals and solid Indian batsmen will help their cause. This year, the team was forced to persist with the misfiring Miller and Maxwell in the middle order because of the absence of a strong batting force. Wriddhiman Saha failed to convert starts and, at times, consumed too many deliveries; Farhaan Behardien seemed a misfit in the middle order, while Stoinis' batting lacked consistency. Lack of faith in their India internationals - Gurkeerat Singh Mann and Rishi Dhawan - resulted in the team getting their balance wrong.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo