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One of the major concerns for Kings XI Punjab ahead of the third season of the IPL is a long injury list. The IPL begins on March 12 and Punjab play their first two games on March 13 and 16, but they are likely to field XIs that may not include a few first-choice players. Sample the injury concerns: Shaun Marsh, Punjab's success story of 2008, looks unlikely to be fit for the start. Their most expensive overseas player, fast bowler Brett Lee, is also beset with fitness problems. Irfan Pathan seems likely to miss the first few matches and Yuvraj Singh, Punjab's highest run scorer in 2009, has only recently begun batting after his latest injury. It is hardly an enviable position for their new captain Kumar Sangakkara, and key to Punjab even nearing the semi-finals this year will be having the entire squad fit and available for the tournament.

Punjab were one of the best teams in the inaugural IPL, cruising into the semi-finals, but had a tough time in the second season, affected by the injuries to fast bowlers Sreesanth and Jerome Taylor, and the unavailability of Australian players for much of the competition. Punjab's Indian bowlers had done the trick in 2008 but found it tough in South Africa the following season, and their team could suffer if that is the case as the bandwagon moves back to India.

The buzz

Lalit Modi, the league's commissioner, and Yuvraj have been busy providing updates on Twitter. Modi had assured that Ravi Bopara and Lee would tour, despite the security concerns, while Yuvraj kept his followers informed about his fitness.

New faces

Punjab have signed up four domestic players - the medium-pacers Love Ablish and Shalabh Srivastava, batsman Manvinder Bisla and allrounder Reetinder Sodhi. Sodhi, who played 18 ODIs for India, and Srivastava, a left-arm pacer, were recently admitted back into the domestic fold after they severed ties with the unofficial ICL. Ablish, who plays for Punjab on the domestic circuit, was the third highest wicket-taker in this season's Ranji Trophy Super League. Bisla, the Haryana-born wicketkeeper who plays for Jammu & Kashmir, was part of IPL champions Deccan Chargers' squad in 2009. Mohammad Kaif, the only Indian up for auction this year, went unsold in the first round of bidding but was later signed up by Punjab for $250,000.

Watch out for

With so many key players not certain to play, No's 3 and 4, the Sri Lankan pair of Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, will assume plenty of significance. Sangakkara was the team's second highest run-scorer in South Africa with 332 runs at 30.18, with two half-centuries, while Jayawardene proved of immense value in a couple of extremely tight chases. Jayawardene doesn't seem a Twenty20 prototype but can clear the boundary with wristy elegance. In the domestic Twenty20 tournament at home, he opened the batting for Wayamba and even scored 91 off 49 balls in the final. Sangakkara has of late evolved into a fabulous Twenty20 player. This pair will be expected to shoulder much of the batting in 2010.

Missing in action

Marsh, Punjab's standout performer in the first IPL season, became the latest worry after he was ruled out of Australia's ODIs against New Zealand due to a back problem. Lee has arrived in India and has been bowling brief spells in the nets and a final call will be taken on March 11. Pathan, who missed the one-day Vijay Hazare Trophy due to a back strain, expects to recover in time to play but he may miss a few of Punjab's initial matches. Yuvraj is confident of being fit by the second match at the latest.

X factor

Punjab, especially given Pathan's fitness concern, desperately need an allrounder to be counted and primed for that scenario is Sodhi. Once tipped - like many other ill-fated domestic players who could bat and bowl a bit - as India's answer to the massive void left by Kapil Dev's retirement, Sodhi never made the grade and until last year was plying his trade in the unofficial ICL. But now that he's back in the fold after severing ties with the IPL, Sodhi has a contract with Punjab and should get an opportunity to show what he's got left in the tank. He's only 29 and a handy Twenty20 player, so this could yet be a defining chapter in the story of another talent gone astray.

Strength

Spin. Piyush Chawla did very well in the first IPL, prompting Sangakkara to hail him as one to watch out for, and Ramesh Powar is also a handy bowler to have in the squad. Chawla was less successful in South Africa, taking just 12 wickets, but wasn't a bowler that opposing teams could take for easy runs. Back in familiar conditions, he will be a real focal point for Punjab. Powar has moved far behind Chawla in the list of India hopefuls, but should be confident of decent playing opportunities. One of the few offspinners who still rely on a lack of pace to fox batsmen in today's game, Powar can be a treat to watch in limited-overs cricket when on top of his game. Both spinners are useful lower-order batsmen.

Weakness

Besides fitness issues, the lack of quality in the Indian batting back-up for Yuvraj is another of Punjab's drawbacks, which makes it vital that Pathan recovers from the back injury that has kept him out of the preliminary squad of the ICC World Twenty20 in the Caribbean. Top-order domestic players like Karan Goel and Tanmay Srivastava need to make an impact if Punjab are to become a genuine title contender.

IPL 2009 - the key figures:

Final position: Fifth place
Top scorer: Yuvraj Singh with 340 runs at 36.50
Top wicket-taker: Irfan Pathan with 17 wickets at 22.94 and economy rate of 7.74
Best result: Seven-wicket win over Royal Challengers Bangalore
Worst result: Ten-wicket loss to Delhi
Highest team score: 158 v Kolkata Knight Riders
Lowest team score: 104 for 7 v Delhi

Prediction for 2010

It depends on which Punjab turns up. Playing at home will help but they need their bowlers firing to trouble the big teams. In 2009 they fought bravely in close encounters but there's a feeling that Punjab lack the killer punch needed to floor the heavyweights. The odds are stacked against Punjab reaching the semi-finals.

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