Kings XI Punjab’s strength comes from the presence of some big hitters through the order

For Kings XI Punjab, the previous season of the Indian Premier League ended with skipper and mentor Adam Gilchrist announcing he had played his last match in the competition.

Five months back, the wicketkeeper batsman changed his mind.

He is back for IPL6. Since then, fellow Australian Darren Lehmann has been hired by the team as the coach.

It may be recalled that Gilchrist and Lehmann formed the think-tank of Deccan Chargers during its triumphant campaign in 2009 in South Africa. The Australian duo is back once again to boost the fortunes of Kings XI.

At 41, Gilchrist’s fitness and form will be tested like never before.

Last year, a pulled hamstring had kept him away from nine matches on the trot. His prolonged absence reflected in the team failing to make the playoffs once again.

Kings XI, semifinalist of the inaugural edition after being second in standings following the league phase, has a strong Australian favour.

However, the majority of Kings XI’s overseas players are past their prime.

Veterans galore

Besides Gilchrist, names like Azhar Mahmood (38), Dimitri Mascarenhas (35), David Hussey (35) and Ryan Harris (33) form the core of the team. The return of Luke Pomersbach strengthens the batting.

In addition to the experience provided by the overseas recruits, the team has the best of Punjab and Haryana cricketers, apart from two important members from Uttar Pradesh — leg-spinner Piyush Chawla and swing bowler Praveen Kumar. Surprisingly, Kings XI has no one from the current Indian team.

Manpreet Grewal, after stints with Chennai and Hyderabad, is looking to be part of the pace attack that includes his Punjab mates Sandeep Sharma and Delhi’s Parvinder Awana. The conditions at Mohali and Dharamshala suit pace bowlers and Kings XI has plenty to choose from. Among the batsmen, Paul Valthaty, Shaun Marsh and Mandeep Singh will be looking to regain the form that made them instant heroes.

Good bench strength

Gilchrist and Hussey have the experience to overcome any crisis. The team’s strength comes from the presence of some big hitters through the order. The bench strength, too, looks capable, with variety in both batting and bowling.

Under Gilchrist, in the last two seasons, Kings XI missed making the playoffs by a whisker. It finished fifth in 2011 and sixth last year, winning half the number of matches in each edition.

Despite the lack of big names, Kings XI cannot be underestimated. This determined team has the capability to upstage any opponent. The top-order clearly holds the key.

After opening its campaign at Pune, Kings XI hosts Chennai Super Kings on May 10.

Armed with a favourable law of averages, Kings XI could well turn out to be the dark horse of this season.

More In: Cricket | Sport | Ipl 2013