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Team review: Maxwell's form and an inability to finish games derailed Kings XI

Agarwal's form, Gayle's contributions and Shami's white-ball evolution were among the positives

Saurabh Somani
Where did they finish?
Sixth, with a higher net run-rate than the Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals, who also had 12 points.
What went right?
Much more than what you'd expect from a team that finished sixth. Mayank Agarwal came of age as a T20 batsman. Dominant in domestic cricket for long, Agarwal hadn't quite had the same success in the IPL. This season, he began strongly, and carried the confidence of his good start through the tournament. Not only did he provide rapid starts, he almost never fell early.
Chris Gayle trained harder than ever on the sidelines, and then made a splash when he got into the XI. A bit of slowness had crept into Gayle's game in seasons past perhaps, the natural effect of age. But this year, he shrugged that aside and showed that his ball-striking form was as good as ever.
Nicholas Pooran proved right everyone who thinks he's going to be one of the great batsmen of the next generation in white-ball cricket. He almost had too many shots to choose from sometimes, and invariably went at breakneck speed through the middle. His conventional strike rate was 169.7 and his Smart Strike Rate was 202.0 - numbers that belong in T20's most elite group.
Mohammed Shami's evolution as a white-ball bowler is starting to match his skills as a Test match bowler. He took wickets upfront, and turned into an effective death bowler too, nailing yorkers consistently.
What went wrong?
Glenn Maxwell's form. Kings XI Punjab kept the faith in him, but Maxwell the batsman went missing this IPL. He played in every match except the last league game but totalled just 108 runs in 106 balls. Remarkably, he did not hit a single six all season.
Agarwal got injured and missed three games, which was also a significant blow. He was not only in great form, his fast starts in the powerplay counter-balanced KL Rahul's more steady approach and set the innings up.
More than any single individual though, what went wrong for the Kings XI was an inability to close out matches. They had six wins from 14 games - they could well have had nine and been preparing to play Mumbai Indians in the first qualifier. Their opening game did have a controversy over a short run, but they really should have won it regardless, as teams would do needing one run from three balls. They were then at the receiving end of a Rahul Tewatia inspired miracle, another freak occurrence. The defeat that might hurt them most though was against the Kolkata Knight Riders when they lost by two runs from a position of 22 needed off 18 balls with nine wickets in hand. Even if one of those results had gone their way, they would have been in the playoffs.
Key numbers
  • Rahul made 670 runs and currently holds the Orange Cap. His IPL season tallies in the last three years now read 659, 593 and 670. But the weight of runs was dwarfed by his strike-rate, which was 129.34. Nobody who has scored 600 runs in an IPL season has had a lower strike rate. That he did it in 2020, made it worse for his team since the way scoring rates have evolved meant the Kings XI always seemed to be lagging behind. His Smart Strike Rate for the season was 120.59, and since he was staying for long at the crease, that meant the Kings XI's scoring rate was slower than expected for longer periods.
  • Shami took 20 wickets, the most for the franchise by a distance. Ravi Bishnoi was second with 12. Shami bowled the tough overs and took the big wickets too. His Smart Wickets tally was 23.12, and his Smart Economy was 8.15 as opposed to a conventional figure of 8.57.
  • Star performers
    Agarwal had only two single-digit scores in 11 innings. Similarly, his strike rate ended up below 130.00 in only two of his innings. To say he was the Kings XI most reliable performer is understating it. He was in fine touch from his first innings, and despite the chaos of the team going on a losing spree at the start, he never allowed it to affect his batting. Agarwal didn't present any obvious weaknesses either, mixing a compact technique with expansive strokeplay effortlessly.
    Gayle was initially not selected in the playing XI, with the team going for greater balance in its overseas picks between batsmen and bowlers. He was slated to come in soon enough, but a stomach bug laid him low. When he did finally recover, he showed the Kings XI what they had been missing.
    Gayle's arrival also meant Rahul felt a little freer at the top of the order to go harder, while teams that had tied up Kings XI in the middle overs suddenly found that they couldn't do that. Gayle batted at No.3 throughout, an unfamiliar position for him, but he fitted into it seamlessly. With Gayle and Pooran in the middle, the Kings XI suddenly became difficult to bowl to at every stage of the innings. The team roared back into contention, winning the first five games after Gayle was back in the XI.
    What needs immediate fixing?
    Kings XI spent INR 10.75 crore for Maxwell and INR 8.50 crore for Sheldon Cottrell at the December 2019 auctions. It would make sense for them to let go of both before the next auction and use the purse freed up to target someone like Mitchell Starc. A gun bowler is something they've been lacking. Shami received admirable support from Arshdeep Singh and Bishnoi, but both are still young and raw. The addition of someone like Starc could transform the team, and mean they end up on the right side of those one-percenters they lost. They don't have to give up on Maxwell and Cottrell, the option to buy them back at the auction for a lesser price is always there.

    Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo