The transformation of Kings XI Punjab
From being one of the most inconsistent franchises in the IPL, in a matter of few months, Kings XI Punjab have become one of the most entertaining teams in T20 cricket. During the IPL 7 auctions, while other franchises frantically paid hefty sums to bid for world class cricketers, Punjab never seemed to be in a hurry as they had done their home work. They had appointed a new coach in Sanjay Bangar, someone who played a major role in their overhaul and change of fortunes.
Punjab had surprised the best of cricket experts by retaining uncapped Manan Vohra for the seventh edition. He was the second player retained by the franchise, apart from David Miller, who was one of their top players in the previous edition. While everybody was taken aback by Punjab's move in backing a youngster, nobody knew it was a strategy, which would be the turning point for them.
Apart from backing youngsters, Punjab rebuilt their squad with quality cricketers, who were either warming benches in the previous season, or were believed to be too raw to be exposed to world class cricketers.
For instance, Virender Sehwag – arguably one of the most explosive batsmen in world cricket, was not retained by Delhi Daredevils, which was a big blow to a player of his calibre. There weren't many takers for him during the auction as well. Punjab not only included Sehwag in the squad, but played him as a regular opener since. Viru too, didn't disappoint his team management and slammed a ton in what was a tremendous season for him.
Wriddhiman Saha – touted to be MS Dhoni's successor, hadn't played much IPL cricket, and the Indian fans had no idea about his big-hitting skills. Saha was in sensational form throughout the season for Punjab, and his electrifying ton in the final against Kolkata Knight Riders, could go down as the finest three-figure knock by an Indian batsman in the cash-rich tournament.
Akshar Patel – from not getting a single game to play for Mumbai Indians in 2013, the left-armer has become George Bailey's go-to man under all circumstances. Patel played all 17 matches for KXIP in IPL 2014, where he picked 17 wickets. The body language of this lanky all-rounder is extremely impressive and he has played some match-winning knocks with the bat as well.
Glenn Maxwell – Nita Ambani and her entire team management would be cursing their decision to let go such a gem from their squad. Maxwell, who too was with Mumbai Indians in 2013, got to play just three matches. Even though he was renowned for his ability to hammer the ball, Mumbai's star-studded side batting line-up had no place for Maxwell to showcase his skills. For Punjab, Maxwell took IPL by a storm, as he played back-to-back scintillating knocks and became the most loved player for his franchise that later nicknamed him - 'The Big Show'
Manan Vohra – Punjab's decision to retain Manan Vohra raised many eyebrows ahead of the auctions. The best part being, after showing so much of confidence in the right-hander, he wasn't a part of their playing eleven initially in IPL 2014. But once he was given a chance, Vohra won the hearts of fans across the world with his breathtaking strokes. Since then, he has been a regular part of the franchise and is being hailed as somebody who could be a part of the Indian team in the future. Not to forget, Vohra is just a 21-year-old and his batting is just getting better with each tournament.
George Bailey – Despite doing well for Australia in international cricket, Bailey didn't get the kind of praise he deserved from the cricketing fraternity. While batsmen like Maxwell and Miller were often credited for Punjab's success, Bailey has played a significant role in rebuilding the squad. Since taking charge, he has resurrected the innings on various occasions, at the same time has played blitzkrieg knocks when required.
Some of the other Indian players who have done well for KXIP this year are Sandeep Sharma, Karanveer Singh and Rishi Dhawan. Not to forget, Miller is someone who can be hailed as the backbone of the team, as the South African has single-handedly won them matches on various occasions.
In short, players who were hurt, players who were called off, ageing players, struggling players, everybody found solace in Punjab squad, who were ready to give everybody a chance. Barring Cheteshwar Pujara, each and every player contributed with a match-winning effort every now and then.
It was a heart breaking loss for Punjab in the final of IPL 2014, where they suffered a 3-wicket loss against Kolkata Knight Riders. They would be keen to win their maiden title at the Champions League Twenty20 now. But even if they don't win the tournament, they are now a side which is likely to win several trophies in the years to come.