April 15, 2014

Overseas stars spruce up Punjab

Play 06:52
'Punjab can win title if Sehwag fires'

Possible first XI

1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Mandeep Singh, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 George Bailey (capt), 5 David Miller, 6 Glenn Maxwell, 7 Wriddhiman Saha/Manan Vohra (wk), 8 Rishi Dhawan, 9 Mitchell Johnson, 10 Murali Kartik, 11 L Balaji
Full squad

2013 finish

Sixth place

Big Picture

Punjab have underachieved for several seasons and last year, their batting let them down. However, in the 2014 auction, the general opinion was that they were the smartest franchise in terms of money spent. They were not afraid to splurge on the Australians, picking Mitchell Johnson, Glenn Maxwell and George Bailey, who replaced the outgoing Adam Gilchrist as captain. The franchise ensured that there was a better balance between the batsmen and bowlers.

Virender Sehwag will be expected to play his natural game at the top. Mandeep Singh and Manan Vohra will be the young Indian batsmen to watch and if they can shoulder the responsibility, the overseas players will benefit. Bailey should add stability to the middle order and bowling attacks will be fearful of Punjab's finishers in David Miller and Maxwell.

Despite their impressive showing in the auction, there are weaknesses in the squad. Wriddhiman Saha is the only specialist wicketkeeper-batsman and Murali Kartik the only international-class spinner. Mohali's pitch has traditionally favoured the seamers, but when the team moves to more spin-friendly conditions in India and UAE, they could be exposed. It propels Johnson as the leader of the bowling attack and for support, he has the experienced L Balaji and the seam-bowling allrounder Rishi Dhawan, who's coming off a dream domestic season. Parwinder Awana has proven his wicket-taking abilities and Sandeep Sharma can swing the ball prodigiously.

Big players

Mitchell Johnson's merciless bowling spells in the Ashes returned Australia to their status as a world-beating Test side. At Rs 6.5 crore (around $1.1m), Johnson was Punjab's most expensive buy. Johnson had to sit out the World T20 due to a toe infection, but he has resumed training and said that the time away has made him hungrier. That is hardly encouraging news for batsmen, who can expect plenty of short stuff from him. His bowling helped Mumbai clinch the title last season. Now in the form of his life, Punjab will look to him as their trump card.

Virender Sehwag didn't get picked in the auction till the last minute and despite a lukewarm first-class season, he managed to fetch Rs 3.2 crore (approx 533,000). In the lead-up to the league, though, his form has been more encouraging. He scored 109 for MCC against Durham in a first-class match and in the T20 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, he had scores of 42, 67 and 49, all in match-winning causes. For a star batsman who has slipped under the radar, this edition could be the breakthrough he needs for an India comeback.

Bargain buy

Punjab paid Rs 2.2 crore (approx $366,000) to buy back the Australian batsman Shaun Marsh, who has served the franchise with distinction since 2008. Marsh has been their best overseas player, scoring 1903 runs in 50 matches with a strike rate of 133.26. Considering they had shelled out more to buy each of the other Australian players in the auction - Maxwell went for Rs 6 crore ($1 million) - Marsh is a bargain.


All Punjab players are available for the full tournament except for Thisara Perera, who could be called up by Sri Lanka for their tour of England, with the limited-overs matches against Ireland starting May 6.


"No doubt, he will have a big impact. Having him around the group is a great thing. It will be great for him to go out and play with freedom."
George Bailey on Virender Sehwag


13/2 - fourth among eight teams
Odds provided by Bet365

Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo