They’ve competed in each of the 16 Indian Premier League seasons so far, even changed their name from Kings XI Punjab to Punjab Kings, but are yet to lay their hands on the IPL trophy. In fact, they’ve made it past the league stage only twice, the last time back in 2014. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Punjab have arguably been the biggest under-performers in the T20 tournament’s history.

Punjab Kings have made it past the league stage only twice, the last time back in 2014(PTI)

Last season was a rollercoaster for PBKS as they won five of their first nine games but lost four of the last five to finish eighth in the table. Arshdeep Singh was the standout performer with 17 wickets, but batting was a major letdown. Skipper Shikhar Dhawan, with 373 runs, was the highest scorer of the team, ending 20th overall.

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Jonny Bairstow missing the season due to injury left a hole in the line-up last year. The 34-year-old is a proven performer in white-ball cricket and has been retained by the franchise for IPL 2024, although his form in recent times hasn’t been promising.

Another important England batter in the PBKS squad is Liam Livingstone. Like Bairstow, he didn’t have a notable ODI World Cup and hasn’t been at his best in the ongoing West Indies tour either; but his all-round skills remain valuable.

Jitesh Sharma’s arrival at the international stage would raise hopes for PBKS fans. The ‘keeper-batter has played seven T20Is for India since debut in October and the confidence he’s gained should hold him in good stead.

In terms of the support staff, PBKS announced the return of Sanjay Bangar as Head of Cricket Development this month. The former India all-rounder was the head coach in 2015 and 2016. “We have a good core of players as evidenced by the fact that we have the lowest number of player releases this year. The challenge is to give the squad the best support possible during and after the season to make the team stronger and deliver success,” he said.

Talking about released players, PBKS let go of Mohit Rathee, Raj Bawa, Shahrukh Khan, Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Baltej Singh heading into Tuesday’s auction in Dubai. Of these players, Shahrukh’s absence could be missed the most. The hard-hitting right-hander was picked for 9 crore in 2022 but couldn’t deliver on his promise, leaving the franchise searching for an Indian batting all-rounder.

Lack of match-winners

A glance through the PBKS squad will tell you that they’re short on big names, especially from India. Dhawan, Bairstow, Livingstone, Sikandar Raza, Sam Curran and Kagiso Rabada are their most accomplished players, but how do they stack up against the set of match-winners in the other teams?

Dhawan is an IPL legend and probably still has it in him to win games single-handedly, but at 38, he is in the final stages of his career. He hasn’t featured for India in the past 12 months and hasn’t played a competitive game since the IPL in May. Heading into the auction, Punjab don’t really have any long-term captaincy prospect.

Arshdeep has been playing international cricket for a while now and Jitesh broke through recently, but it remains to be seen if the duo makes it to India’s first choice eleven in big tournaments. And that’s where the problem lies for PBKS. However, there won’t be too many options in terms of top local players at the auction.

With Dhawan and Bairstow as a left-right combination at the top of the order, PBKS may want to look at Harry Brook, Rovman Powell or Rilee Rossouw for firepower in the middle order. Leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga, who is also a handy batter lower down the order, could be a strong addition to the spin department that consists of Sikandar, Rahul Chahar and Harpreet Brar. Shardul Thakur is likely to attract a bidding war and his skills as a pace-bowling all-rounder would be of great help to Punjab.

Considering the run their team has had over the past decade, PBKS fans would probably dream of a squad overhaul. But that won’t be possible in this auction. They have eight slots available, including two overseas, and they’ll have the arduous task of filling them with a purse ( 29.10 crore) that’s not too heavy.