If Kolkata Knight Riders were a movie, it would be a multi-starrer action franchise that has all the glitz, glamour, money and big stars, yet the best part of which only remains the build up and the promotions. The story of the film ends up lacking substance and the film gets panned every year.
March 27, 2017, IPL, Kolkata: it was where KKR had inflicted an unforgettable punch in the guts of the RCB and their fans when they blew them like a pack of cards on 49. To date, it hurts the RCB fans more than their never ending tryst with the IPL trophy. April 13 turned as ignominious for the Kolkata Knight Riders, as after four years, they were on the receiving end of a similar disaster succumbing to arguably the biggest T20 choke of the decade, a defeat that's hurting the KKR fans and the team pretty bad right now, and will continue to hound them for a long time.
But this man-made disaster was inevitable, as for KKR, at times, seemingly, it's more about stringing together a galaxy of stars. They somehow just fail to extract the best out of their players. At times because they try to assign roles to players that doesn’t suit their strengths and at others, not assigning clear cut roles at all, at least, by the looks of it, given how terribly it comes off. No wonder they have finished outside the top four in the last two seasons. As close as KKR were to making it to the playoffs, last year, the fact that they couldn't make it, even after winning two games, purely owing to some horrendous cricket from the opposition, was a story itself. Then retaining certain players, even when they aren’t supposed to largely feature in the XI or were replaceable in the market at lesser price, was just one of those classic KKR howlers.
That KKR have batting woes, with a batting line-up consisting of Nitish Rana, Shubman Gill, Andre Russell, Eoin Morgan, Dinesh Karthik, Shakib Al Hasan, is something. But then again, a lot goes behind forming a successful batting line-up than just big names. Definitive roles, for starters. Unlike most of the other IPL teams, it's hard to even define what kind of approach Kolkata have, if they have one indeed. For example, with Delhi Capitals, you know, they will go bang, bang in the start, then accumulate runs in the middle and then finish strongly. That's the case with all the other teams but the Kolkata-based franchise. Every season, they have one or two batsmen having an exceptional season and that's how they roll. Even if the roles are assigned clearly, the execution is so second-rate that all plans remain confined to papers only.
Gill, Russell and Morgan - three musketeers of disappointment
The MVP of IPL 2019 for the Kolkata Knight Riders, the one-man army, Andre Russell's dry spell with the bat is hurting the team immensely. Last year, injury and poor form plagued his season, but even in the first two games of IPL 2021, he has looked out of sorts. In fact, if there was a cricket themed award show, Dre Russ would not only be nominated for the 'most horrendous T20 knock of the decade' award for his 15-ball-9 against Mumbai Indians, but will win the honor, hands down. Against MI, he just refused to turn up and finish the job, despite MI offering him all the necessary hospitality (two easy drops). Since the start of IPL 2020, in 11 games, the West Indies all-rounder has averaged a poor 11.9. From hitting four sixes on an average in the 2019 season, he now doesn't even hit one six per game. Talk about a downward spiral. When the MVP turns into the biggest letdown, things are bound to go out of hand.
7, 2, 22, 1, 4, 28, 26, The poor form mania has also reached the KKR skipper Eoin Morgan. He's having a dreadful year with the bat as we saw in the recent white-ball series between India and England. And even in the first two games of the IPL, he has struggled to buy runs. Morgan's form with the bat was one of the highlights of the season for the franchise last year, but if he doesn't regain his old touch soon enough, Kolkata are in for a shocker of a season
Shubman Gill looks a world-class batsman. His extraordinary strokeplay often leaves the audience gasping. But, that's about it. As much as Gill would want us to believe that strike-rate is 'overrated', it surely isn't especially for someone, who plays the role of an anchor, yet hardly finishes with a flourish. His strike-rate of 119 since the start of IPL 2020, has at times, put more pressure on his side, than easing it. More so, his inability to win his side games of cricket consistently, despite being a power-house of extravagant abilities, is hugely disappointing. He's surely better than making these 20s and 30s (7 out of last 16 times in IPL) and needs to deliver on the hype of a star young player.
Swap Shakib's position with Rahul Tripathi
Shakib Al Hasan is a decent option for KKR. He provides them the variation of a left-arm orthodox spinner, which was missing with them. But, he has his limitations as a batsman. Batting at 5 is one of the most challenging positions in the shortest format. And Shakib doesn't boast the game to bat at 5, and can be best utilized at no.3, or else, an important slot will most likely get wasted. Since the start of 2018, the Bangladesh all-rounder averages 17.7 at No.5 with an even poorer SR of 103.9 in T20s. His middle-overs and death overs SR of 116 and 124.7, aren't quite in sync with the requirements of a middle-order finisher. At 3, he will be able to bide his time and give himself the best chance to score big and consistently. Rahul Tripathi has been used as a floater in the past and that's a role he can ace this time too. He can be sent in the middle, keeping in mind the game situation, the match-ups and used accordingly, something that Morgan loves doing. In any case, it would be extremely difficult for him to crack the role of an aggressor at 3, given his past records are only decent, and not great.
Prasidh Krishna - Time to leave the hype train; make better use of Harbhajan
Against Mumbai Indians, where no other bowler gave away more than 28 in their quota of four overs from either side, Prasidh Krishna leaked 42 runs, on a wicket which was tailor-made for his natural length and bounce. And it's not just this game, after IPL 2018, where he impressed one and all, he has been more hype than performances. Since the start of IPL 2019, he has merely taken 11 wickets in 19 innings, with a poor SR of 35.9 and has been expensive, conceding 9.37 runs per over. Shivam Mavi didn't do any wrong to get overlooked from the XI, especially after last year, when he took 9 wickets in 8 innings with a SR of 17.3 and conceded 8.15 runs per over.
Harbhajan Singh has been only used for three overs in the first two games, largely, in the powerplay. But he should be utilized in the middle-overs too. In his previous IPL season in 2019, he had a strike-rate of 19.2 while his ER was also great at 6.56 in overs 7-15. Especially in the next three games that will be played on a flat Wankhede wicket, his experience of playing at the venue will come in handy. Since the start of 2015 IPL, in the middle-overs, the offie has had an ER of 7.38 in Mumbai, which is phenomenal. Pat Cummins might be bowling like a dream right now, and getting wickets as an enforcer, also Shakib Al Hasan, has done a great job, but in Mumbai, such performances won’t be easy to replicate. Better usage of Harbhajan will only strengthen the KKR attack, especially in testing conditions.
All said and done, it’s just the start of an engrossing IPL season and KKR have enough time to correct the wrongs. After their horror show against Mumbai, they can follow in the footsteps of Ravi Shastri for inspiration and wear the shambolic defeat as a badge of honor, to make a grand comeback like the Indian team had, in Australia, earlier this year, after an all-time low.