Few will be surprised if Kings XI Punjab makes it to the play-offs in the seventh edition of the Indian Premier League. Rich in Aussie-flavour, the combination with reputed names, including a good number of all-rounders, is an exciting prospect.

The team’s decision to keep big-hitter David Miller was strategic but not the retention of Manan Vohra. Mercifully, its smart buying during the auction stood out. The man behind the team’s judicious shopping is Sanjay Bangar, known for his excellent man-management skills.

Rivals’ appreciation

Initially, the team chased Kevin Pietersen with a nine crore bid but lost out to Delhi Daredevils’ right-to-match option. But the decision to bag left-arm speedster Mitchell Johnson (for Rs. 6.50 crore), all-rounder Glenn Maxwell (Rs. 6 crore), Australia’s T20 captain George Bailey (Rs. 3.25 crore) and Virender Sehwag (Rs. 3.20 crore), besides a few more potential match-winners, earned Kings XI the appreciation of even some of its rivals.

By buying back batsman Shaun Marsh (Rs. 2.20 crore) without using the right to retain option, a raring-to-go Cheteshwar Pujara, young all-rounder Rishi Dhawan to go with the vast talent from the region, Kings XI acquires a formidable look. The experience of medium-pacer Lakshmipathy Balaji and left-arm spinner Kartik Murali can also prove handy.

It will be interesting to see how Kings XI goes about choosing four overseas players in the playing eleven. Though skipper Bailey, Johnson, Maxwell and Marsh or Miller select themselves, the presence of bowlers like Beuran Hendricks and Thisara Perera adds to the options.

Sehwag factor

Sehwag will be highly motivated after being back among the runs for Delhi in the North Zone league matches of Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament. Should he get back his confidence early in the competition, Sehwag will be hard to contain.

Pujara, considered the most organised batsman in the country’s Test squad, is out to prove his worth in the game’s shortest version too. It will be interesting to watch his progress.

Kings XI, which has not reached the play-off since the inaugural edition in 2008 when it lost in the semifinals, ought to be hungry. In a few editions, Kings XI ended a mere step short of qualifying for the play-off stage.

From Yuvraj Singh, to Kumar Sangakkara to Adam Gilchrist, the team had a mixed luck with captains.

In the weeks to follow, the Kings XI fans can expect the ever-smiling Bailey to deliver.

The squad: George Bailey (capt), Mitchell Johnson, Glenn Maxwell, Virender Sehwag, Rishi Dhawan, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Shaun Marsh, Cheteshwar Pujara, David Miller, Manan Vohra, Beuran Hendricks, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Thisara Perera, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Kartik Murali, Sandeep Sharma, Mandeep Singh, Akshar Patel, Parvinder Awana, Shardul Thakur, Anureet Singh, Shivam Sharma, and Karanveer Singh.

Watch out for

After tormenting England and South Africa, Mitchell Johnson has nosed ahead of Dale Steyn in the race to decide the most intimidating bowler in present-day cricket. The left-armer will be playing his second IPL season after his triumphant debut season with Mumbai Indians brought him 24 wickets.

Kings XI’s most expensive player is back from a brief lay-off forced by an infected toe. The confirmation of Johnson’s availability has firmed up the team’s title aspirations.

As Johnson put it, “I’m really excited playing on those wickets in India again and try and be intimidating as I have been in the last six months or so.”

Track Record

BEST FINISHES: Semifinalist in 2008, 5th in 2009 and 2011.

WIN-LOSS RECORD: Played: 89, Won: 44; Lost: 45.

TOP PERFORMERS: Leading run-getter: Shaun Marsh (1903 in 50 matches)

Highest wicket-taker: Piyush Chawla (84 wickets in 87 games)

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