Mentor Virender Sehwag had revealed in February that Kings XI Punjab team owners had chosen R Ashwin over fan favorite Yuvraj Singh as captain for the 11th edition of Indian Premier League (IPL).
The Preity-Zinta co-owned franchise were the biggest spenders at the IPL auction held in Bengaluru January 27 and 28. The former finalists revamped their side, buying an array of superstars, including quite a few former and current skippers of international teams.
However, Sehwag had made it clear that he had been keen on appointing a bowler as captain and the decision to appoint Ashwin as the skipper was also backed by the franchise's long-term vision.
Despite not having international experience as a captain, Ashwin has always showcased his shrewd cricketing brain on the field. The Tamil Nadu off-spinner hinted at his approach, saying he would be as "unpredictable as possible."
Ashwin has one of the best KXIP squads in the 10-year-history of the league for the upcoming season, starting April 7 in Mumbai.
However, a lot will depend on how he manages his players, especially prominent characters in the dressing room of the likes of Yuvraj Singh and Chris Gayle, who are facing the pressure of holding on to their spots in the playing XI.
The off-spinner himself will be looking to prove a point to the selectors after having been dropped from India's limited-over squads.
The problem of plenty for skipper Ashwin
Nonetheless, KXIP are blessed with batting firepower capable of decimating opposition attacks. In Gayle and Aaron Finch, Sehwag's men have one of the best opening pairs in the eight-team league.
However, it will be interesting to see if Ashwin decides to play both the big-hitters in the playing XI, given the presence of in-form Karnataka opener Mayank Agarwal in the squad.
KXIP also have a strong Indian core, which consists the likes of Yuvraj, KL Rahul, Manoj Tiwary and Karun Nair. David Miller and Marcus Stoinis are potential candidates for the finishing role.
All eyes on young Afghanistan spinner
Australia speedster Andrew Tye will be leading pace attack, which also has India pacers Mohit Sharma and Barinder Sran. Stoinis will be expected to chip in while Ben Dwarshuis will be used as a back-up.
Skipper Ashwin along with KXIP's only retained player Axar Patel will be key to the success of their bowling department. All eyes will be on 17-year-old Afghanistan spinner Mujeeb Zardan, who has already played 17 international matches — 35 wickets in 15 ODIs.
Venues: Punjab Cricket Association Stadium, Mohali; Holkar Cricket Stadium, Indore.
Key players to watch out for
Ashwin will be hoping to repay the faith Sehwag and the team management has shown in him in the upcoming season. The 31-year-old is known for his fighting attitude and KXIP will be well-served if it reflects in their approach.
A lot will also depend on how he uses himself as a bowler, given his ability to bowl tidy spells in power plays. It will be interesting to see if the Tamil Nadu off-spinner bowls leg-spin, a new variation he has reportedly been working on ever since losing his spot in the limited-over side.
Yuvraj's form will be key to the morale of KXIP, given the World Cup-winning India all-rounder is the fan favorite in Mohali and Indore. The 36-year-old, if gets going, can single-handedly win matches for their side.
The left-hander's experience will also be key to the team, especially in guiding Ashwin, who had revealed the former would be KXIP's lynchpin.
Probable playing XI - Kings XI Punjab, IPL 2018
Ravichandran Ashwin (c), Aaron Finch, Mayank Agarwal, Yuvraj Singh, KL Rahul (wk), David Miller, Marcus Stoinis, Andrew Tye, Axar Patel, Mohit Sharma, Mujeeb Zardan.
Complete KXIP Squad
Ravichandran Ashwin(c), Axar Patel, Yuvraj Singh, Karun Nair, Lokesh Rahul, Chris Gayle, David Miller, Aaron Finch, Marcus Stoinis, Mayank Agarwal, Ankit Rajpoot, Manoj Tiwary, Mohit Sharma, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Barinder Sran, Andrew Tye, Akshdeep Nath, Ben Dwarshuis, Pardeep Sahu, Mayank Dagar, Manzoor Dar.