Captain KL Rahul is excited to watch the Punjab Kings' new speed sensation Riley Meredith bowl with "proper pace", something Rahul believes his team has been missing for a few years to "intimidate the opposition". The Kings bought Meredith, who made his T20I debut for Australia against New Zealand last month - for INR 8 crore (US$ 1.1 million approx.) at the IPL 2021 auctions. He joins a pace attack that also includes Jhye Richardson this time, apart from Mohammed Shami, Chris Jordan, Arshdeep Singh and Ishan Porel.
"I'm really looking forward to watching Riley Meredith bowl," Rahul said on Red Bull's podcast Decoding Athletes earlier this week. "I watched him in a couple of games in New Zealand, he could bowl some proper pace, that's something that I've felt we were missing for three or four seasons that I've been with the Kings…someone with sheer pace, someone who can intimidate the opposition. So I'm looking forward to watching him bowl from behind the stumps."
Set to play his maiden IPL season, Meredith can push the speed gun towards 150kmh, and had pinned Kane Williamson lbw twice in three innings, including for a first-ball duck in the fifth T20I of the recent series. Before that, Meredith was among the top three wicket-takers for the Hobart Hurricanes in the BBL, with 16 wickets in 13 games at an economy rate of 7.82.
After leaking a few too many runs towards the death overs last season, the Kings spent a combined INR 22 crore (US$ 3 million approx.) on the Australian duo of Richardson and Meredith this time, who could play the role that Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje did for the Delhi Capitals in IPL 2020. But that would mean the Kings can play only two out of Chris Gayle, Nicholas Pooran, Dawid Malan, Fabian Allen and Moises Henriques for the other two overseas players' spots.
Rahul, who topped the run-scoring charts in IPL 2020, also said that not being able to close out a few games cost the Kings a playoff spot last year. The Kings had finished sixth in the last IPL, only two points behind the Sunrisers Hyderabad and the Royal Challengers Bangalore, who finished third and fourth respectively.
"I generally believe that we were a tad bit unlucky last time," Rahul said. "We did play some really good cricket. A couple of games we really couldn't close for different reasons. It did hurt a little, but I'm hoping that the change of name, change of jersey - there's been a whole lot of changes - can bring us some good fortune."
Rahul further said he had been in touch with Anil Kumble (director of cricket operations) and Andy Flower (assistant coach) even when he was in quarantine to discuss "what kind of combinations" to play and to decide which "player plays in what position".
Rahul's own form had been under scrutiny during the recent T20Is against England at home in which he scored 14, 0, 0 and 1. Even though he was dropped for the fifth T20I, captain Virat Kohli and batting coach Vikram Rathour backed him publicly, and then played him in the three ODIs, in which Rahul scored an unbeaten 62 and 108 in three innings.
Speaking on how he pulled himself out of the pits of low scores and how he dealt with the pressure, Rahul said: "I won't lie, it does get to you sometimes and it's hard sometimes. Especially in the last [T20I] series when I wasn't getting runs after having done well for a couple of years, and then a few bad performances and there are questions being raised and a lot of talk outside, it does get to you sometimes.
"But again you try and shift your focus back to what you've been doing well all your life and that is what has gotten you here so far so try and go back to the basics and try and find a way to enjoy the process. And I've always been somebody who's tried to remain balanced in whatever the game gives me. So I'm grateful and I respect that, and I don't want to start questioning myself when I start doing badly. So I've always tried to remain balanced and tried to take the game as it comes every day and what is in my control is to train hard, to prepare well, do my homework for the opposition and try and understand and assess the conditions as quickly as I can and try and do the best that I can for my team.
"Every time I'm in that sort of mindset I always tend to do better. Every time I've done badly is when I start thinking about myself and I quickly snap out of it and try and focus on the challenge which is winning games for the team and that's always seemed to helped me."
The Kings will start their IPL campaign on April 12 against the Rajasthan Royals in Mumbai.
Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo