Kings XI Punjab, the last of the nine teams to take the field in the 2013 Indian Premier League, will clash with Pune Warriors India in Pune on Sunday (April 7). Punjab haven't won their opening match in any of the five previous editions of the IPL, but against a Pune side that failed to chase a meagre 126 against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Friday, they will fancy their chances of breaking that jinx.
Partly due to their relatively late start, but more because of the absence of big name Indian players, Punjab have been somewhat under the radar - as much as that is possible in a tournament like the IPL – so far. What they have going for them though, is a core of reliable foreign players in Azhar Mahmood, Ryan Harris, David Hussey and Adam Gilchrist, the captain, who has returned for what is likely to be a final IPL season. Shaun Marsh, one of Punjab's main batsmen, is yet to join the team after sustaining a knee injury in February, and when he comes back, Punjab's overseas contingent should look powerful enough.
Pune have an even more enviable line-up to pick from, but after their first match debacle, that might not offer them great comfort. Pune had some fine players in their squads in 2011 and 2012 too, but finished in the bottom two on both occasions. There is hope this year, in the emergence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who makes for a good new-ball pairing with Ashok Dinda, with Ishwar Pandey, the highest wicket-taker of the last Ranji Trophy season, in the reserves. That frees up slots for the overseas players, particularly batsmen who can bowl spin such as Marlon Samuels and Steven Smith.
The batting, in fact, has been more of a worry for Pune as the botched chase against Hyderabad illustrated, and they might want to consider picking overseas players while giving greater weightage to batting ability, which could give Aaron Finch a look in.
Punjab's overseas contingent gives them great depth in bowling. If Ryan Harris can keep his body together, he'll form a good combination with Mahmood, and with Parvinder Awana, Praveen Kumar and Piyush Chawla in the side, they'll have an attack that will threaten most line-ups.
The one factor that can throw any plan out of kilter, however, is the presence of Yuvraj Singh. Easily among the most destructive batsmen in the world, Yuvraj can, and has, turned many games with his canny left-arm spin too.
Both teams have good reserves of uncapped domestic talent, with Parvez Rasool and Pandey leading the pack for Pune and the likes of Mandeep Singh and Manan Vohra doing duty for Punjab.
The pitch at Subroto Roy Sahara Stadium wasn't always batsman friendly in 2012. In the only international match held at the venue, when India took on England in a Twenty20 International in December 2012, a star turn by Yuvraj, who took 3 for 19 and smashed 38 off 21, took India to an easy victory. If he can do a repeat, Yuvraj may yet drag Pune from falling into a familiar trough, given how their season has started.
Kings XI Punjab: Adam Gilchrist (capt, wk), Azhar Mahmood, David Hussey, David Miller, Dimitri Mascarenhas, Luke Pomersbach, Ryan Harris, Bhargav Bhatt, Bipul Sharma, Gurkeerat Mann Singh, Harmeet Singh Bansal, Mandeep Singh, Manpreet Gony, Nitin Saini (wk), Parvinder Awana, Paul Valthaty, Piyush Chawla, Praveen Kumar, Manan Vohra, Aniket Choudhary, R Sathish, Sandeep Sharma, Siddharth Chitnis, Sunny Singh.
Pune Warriors India: Angelo Mathews (capt), Ajantha Mendis, Kane Richardson, Luke Wright, Marlon Samuels, Mitchell Marsh, Steve Smith, Tamim Iqbal, Wayne Parnell, Abhishek Nayar, Ali Murtaza, Anustup Majumdar, Ashok Dinda, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Dheeraj Jadhav, Eklavya Dwivedi, Harpreet Singh, Ishwar Pandey, Krishnakant Upadhyay, Mahesh Rawat, Manish Pandey, Mithun Manhas, Parvez Rasool, Rahul Sharma, Raiphi Gomez, Robin Uthappa, Shrikant Wagh, T Suman, Udit Birla, Yuvraj Singh.