IPL 2022 | Will Shreyas Iyer stand tall for KKR to bring back the good old days?

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KKR newly-appointed captain Shreyas Iyer

SportsCafe Graphics team

IPL 2022 | Will Shreyas Iyer stand tall for KKR to bring back the good old days?

Ahead of the bidding war in IPL 2022 auction, KKR had retained two overseas players in Andre Russell and Sunil Narine and kept their faith in Venkatesh Iyer and Varun Chakravarthy. Barring Russell, the trio had a decent second half in the IPL 2021, which helped them reach the final last season.

After three disappointing seasons in the Indian Premier League (IPL), Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) decided to appoint Venky Mysore as the CEO of the Purple and Gold brigade with the aim to rebuild the franchise. The rest, as they say, is history. 

Mysore, since taking the charge, has taken high risks in the auctions, which have often been criticised initially, but later on, they proved to be serious acquisitions. The KKR think tank, led by Mysore, does not believe in making too many changes in the squad. The 2022 auction, which was held in Bengaluru on February 12 and 13, was no different.

Ahead of the bidding war, KKR had retained two overseas players in Andre Russell and Sunil Narine, and also kept their faith in Venkatesh Iyer and Varun Chakravarthy. Barring Russell, the trio had a decent second half in the IPL 2021, which helped them reach the final before they were smashed out of the park by Chennai Super Kings.

Despite spending a total of INR 34 crore on four of their retentions, KKR entered the IPL 2022 auction with a purse of INR 48 crore, as a standard deduction of INR 42 crore was done from their total purse irrespective of their players’ salaries. Similar to the 2011 edition, KKR’s top priority in the latest auction was to acquire the services of an influential leader. They roped in Gautam Gambhir from Delhi Daredevils at that time. And this time around, they have put their faith in Shreyas Iyer, another player who had led the Delhi-based franchise in the past.

Safe to say, in both cases, KKR could not have found a better possible captaincy candidate among the available options. When Gambhir came, he helped them win the title twice in three years (2012 and 2014). Can Shreyas manage to replicate the same, or perhaps even better? Well, we shall see soon.

Let us have a look at Kolkata Knight Riders’ full squad for IPL 2022:

Shreyas Iyer (c), Andre Russell, Varun Chakravarthy, Venkatesh Iyer, Sunil Narine, Nitish Rana, Shivam Mavi, Sheldon Jackson, Pat Cummins, Ajinkya Rahane, Rinku Singh, Anukul Roy, Rasikh Dar, Chamika Karunaratne, Baba Indrajith, Ashok Sharma, Pratham Singh, Abhijeet Tomar, Sam Billings, Aaron Finch, Ramesh Kumar, Mohammad Nabi, Aman Khan, Umesh Yadav.

Let us have a look at the in-depth analysis of the KKR squad.

Not-so-sure favourable openers

Kolkata had a blistering power-hitting option at the top after securing a deal with Alex Hales in the 2022 auction. Many would have thought the 2022 edition could be Hales’ breakthrough year in the IPL, but the Englishman decided to withdraw himself from the upcoming season due to bio-bubble fatigue. The franchise, as his replacement, was then forced to bring in reigning T20 World Cup-winning captain Aaron Finch to the Galaxy of Knights.

This will be Finch’s ninth IPL franchise, an individual record by any player in the tournament’s history. However, he never managed to match the higher expectations in IPL in the past, accumulating 2,005 runs in 85 innings at a strike rate of 127,71,  and his new assignment with Kolkata will be, undoubtedly, a stern test.

Considering the franchise’s interests in the past during the auctions, Finch will be an initial starter for Kolkata to open the innings alongside Venkatesh Iyer. The 27-year-old has been in the form of his life since starting to make an impact in the second leg of the IPL 2021 and will be looking to carry the momentum to strengthen his chances for a place in the India squad for the upcoming T20 World Cup.

If Finch fails to perform up to the mark, Kolkata may opt for Ajinkya Rahane at the top. They may even go with Sam Billings, who is ideally a middle-over specialist, as an opener. In fact, Billings’ promotion can solve Kolkata’s two critical issues, one is regarding the wicket-keeping, and another is a dependable batter to pair up with Venkatesh Iyer.

But it is still unclear who will be the primary openers for Kolkata Knight Riders, which surprisingly can be a blessing in disguise for them.

Strong middle-order batters

Along with the additions of Shreyas, who will probably bat at No. 3 if not No. 4, Kolkata have brought Nitish Rana back at a hefty INR 8 crore. Rana, since joining Kolkata from Mumbai Indians in 2018, has scored 1,079 runs in 45 IPL matches at a striker rate of 131, and the franchise did not show any hesitation in the auction table to have him back.

Shreyas’ numbers in the IPL are equally impressive. He has 2,375 runs in 87 games at an average of 31.67, striking at 123.96. In 2020, under his captaincy, Delhi Capitals reached the IPL final for the first time.

Shreyas Iyer batting records in IPL © SportsCafe Graphics Team

Going with Kolkata’s predicted primary choice of Finch as an opener, 2022 might be the year for Sheldon Jackson to showcase his talents at the highest level. Jackson has been consistent for Saurashtra on the domestic circuit for more than a decade now, and he will be coming off to the IPL 2022 after a decent Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy campaign, where he had scored 271 runs in six matches at 141.88. 

With Shreyas and Rana at Nos. 3 and 4,  the 35-year-old wicket-keeper is likely to come to bat after them.

Power-packed finishers

Traditionally, Kolkata bat deep because of having a bunch of potent all-rounders. Despite Andre Russell’s fitness concerns and a below-par performance in the last two editions, where he managed only 300 runs from 20 outings at an average of 19.57, the franchise chose not to release the big Jamaican for the 2022 auction, probably keeping the lack of identical substitutional options in mind.

Kolkata will hope to see the vintage ‘Dre Russ’, the MVP of IPL 2015 and 2019, back in the upcoming edition. Remember, he is one of the very rare who has smashed more sixes (143) than fours (119) in the tournament. In the 2022 auction, Kolkata did a smart business by roping in Pat Cummins at INR 7.25 crore. Cummins might yet to have his best of IPL seasons with the ball, taking 38 wickets in 37 matches at an economy rate of 8.23, but he has evolved as a skipper in Australia’s Test setup. He even played a few handy knocks lower down the order for Kolkata, and the franchise keeps faith in him as a leader in their pace bowling unit.

Andre Russell's batting records in IPL © SportsCafe Graphics team

Despite playing blistering cameos in the past, Sunil Narine is expected to be mostly used as a specialist spinner in the IPL 2022. Last season, Kolkata’s team management, headed by Brendon McCullum, experimented with him as a floater on numerous occasions, but it did not work for not even once. He will probably bat at No. 8, if not No. 7. After an ordinary IPL 2020, Narine had enjoyed significant success last year, bagging 16 wickets in 14 matches at an excellent economy rate of 6.44 to help his side reach the final. Overall, he has 143 IPL wickets in 133 matches, the seventh-most in the tournament’s history.

Lack of variety in bowling

Kolkata’s architect-turned-cricketer Varun Chakravarthy has been a revelation since he moved from Punjab Kings after 2019. His numbers for the franchise are so stupendous (36 wickets in 30 matches, economy 6.71), that it forced them to retain him ahead of Shubman Gill. Like 2021, his and Narine’s allotted eight overs, which are often termed as “mysterious”, will be the key.

Kolkata’s former two fast bowlers Prasidh Krishna and Lockie Ferguson went at a staggering price of INR 10 crore each in the 2022 auction. Due to budget constraints, the franchise had to sacrifice them, but they brought 23-year-young sensation Shivam Mavi at INR 7.25 crore. Mavi, despite playing for Kolkata in the past three editions, still lacks consistency, having taken 25 wickets in 26 games at 8.29, which can be troublesome. Although Mavi, with his raw pace, which often clocks 140 kph plus, can be clinical this season due to the additional responsibility and the whopping price tag.

Sunil Narine's bowling records in IPL © SportsCafe Graphics team

If Russell remains full fit, Kolkata may not go with a three-member pace attack and play a specialist batter, as they already have Venkatesh as a fast-bowling all-rounder. Otherwise, the franchise may opt for the experienced Umesh Yadav to complete the lineup. Despite being a veteran of IPL, having taken 119 wickets in 121 matches, Umesh had not been a regular starter for his former side Delhi Capitals. This is also his homecoming season for Kolkata after three years,

Andre Russell's bowling records in IPL ©  © SportsCafe Graphics Team

Kolkata’s strongest possible XI for IPL 2022: Venkatesh Iyer, Aaron Finch, Shreyas Iyer (c), Nitish Rana, Sheldon Jackson (wk), Andre Russell, Pat Cummins, Sunil Narine, Shivam Mavi, Umesh Yadav, Varun Chakravarthy.

In a foreword to the book Cricket 2.0: Inside the T20 Revolution, Harsha Bhogle wrote the “Indian Premier League (IPL) is a giant laboratory where innovations are being studied.” Kolkata have bought a few list-known cricketers this time, like Aman Khan, Ashok Sharma, Pratham Singh, as well as Abhijeet Tomar, and it would not be a surprise if one of them reaches new heights at the end of the season.

For that, Shreyas Iyer’s return as captain and his tactics to fulfil the thousands of fans’ hopes holds the key.  

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