Having failed to chase 82 in the last 10 overs with eight wickets to spare, the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) might not had an ideal end to their campaign in the 2018 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), but from a broader perspective, it has been pretty fruitful season for this new-look side. Despite missing its best pacer, Mitchell Starc, and with only a 19-member squad which has no big name as such, KKR have done exceedingly well under the inspirational leadership of Dinesh Karthik, to finish the season as the third best team in the competition.
Following the auction, in which the KKR think-tank mostly opted to go for young talents instead of established names, not many people would have expected them to put up such a rousing show in this cricket extravaganza. Remember, in the post-auction period, KKR were the only team which was yet to finalise their captain. In fact, just a month prior to the tournament, the team management announced Karthik as a leader of the team, that too in the middle of a television show.
However, in his first-ever IPL season as a captain, apart from a few early season goof-ups, Karthik has impressed each and every one. Most importantly, he has led from the front, both from behind and in-front of the wicket. In his inaugural season in KKR colours, the skipper has by far been the stand-out performer. It is really pity that due to some sort of brainfade by his batsmen in the last 60 balls of the Qualifier 2 against Sunrisers Hyderabad, Karthik couldn’t take his team to the final, but he has every reason to feel proud of his team’s efforts.
What went wrong?
In the initial half of the tournament, KKR did not get any sort of momentum in their campaign. They were not winning matches on a consistent basis. In fact, it took quite a few defeats for the team management to identify their best XI. In the batting department, the opening pair of Chris Lynn and Sunil Narine was not providing the kind of starts the team was looking for. The middle-order was not reliable and heavily dependent on Karthik. As a finisher with bat, Andre Russell was pretty off-colour, after the opposition bowlers had worked him out and started implementing the short-ball strategy against him.
Also, coming back from an injury, Lynn had taken quite a few games to get into his groove. As he was not being able to hit the ball as cleanly as he does generally, the Aussie decided to play the role of a sheet-anchor. Though I must say, as the tournament progressed, he adjusted decently to this role.
Furthermore, this year, KKR couldn’t live up to their long-standing reputation of being a good bowling side. Getting wickets inside the powerplay had been a headache for the skipper and the team management throughout this season. Also, in the death overs, the inexperience of some the young pacers had cost the team severely. A classic testament to this statement can be the effort of Shivam Mavi against Shreyas Iyer at Kotla and Prasidh Krishna's meek surrender against Rashid Khan in the second Qualifier.
Turning point of the season
Undoubtedly, it has to be the tweet of co-owner Shah Rukh Khan, in which he apologised to the KKR fans for the ‘lack of spirt’ of the team, following a 102-run thrashing at the hands of Mumbai Indians at the Eden Gardens. I believe, that review by SRK hurt the self-respect of the entire team and it urged them to lift game. As a result, the ‘Men in Purple’ showcased a commanding show next up, to win four back to back games, before suffering a 14-run defeat against the Sunrisers on Friday night (25 May).
Sports is about the spirit & wins/losses don’t reflect that. But tonite as the ‘Boss’ I need to apologise to the fans for the lack of spirit
— Shah Rukh Khan (@iamsrk) May 9, 2018
The young talents, especially the likes of Shubman Gill (203 runs in 11 innings), Nitish Rana (304 runs in 15 innings and four wickets with his part-time off-spin) and Krishna (10 wickets in seven matches), have been the shining light for the ‘Purple Brigade’. Compared to any other team in this IPL, KKR had been the most dependent on their uncapped players. And these youngsters have performed exceeding to the expectations.
Also, Karthik’s batting (498 runs in 16 innings) is the biggest positive to come out from IPL 2018 for KKR and Indian cricket. He has been his team’s crisis man, whenever there was a crisis situation, Karthik invariably bailed them out with bat. Unfortunately, he couldn’t do the same in during the run-chase against Sunrisers in the high-profile second qualifier.
Meanwhile, when the pace department had struggled to put the brakes on opposition batsmen, it was the spin trio of Narine-Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla, which came to the rescue with 48 wickets in the season. It was only because of the spinners that KKR had some of sanity in the bowling department.
Bowling, especially the pace department has let KKR down throughout this season. On a helpful Eden pitch, all the KKR seamers haven’t shown any sort of consistency. With an economy rate of 9.28, Krishna, who replaced Kamlesh Nagarkoti in the middle of the season, was the best seam bowler for KKR this season. This shows how poorly the KKR pace attack had performed in this edition of the IPL.
The other disappointing aspect of the season was the irresponsible batsmanship of Robin Uthappa, the vice-captain. On paper, he might have 351 runs in 16 innings, but during most of those knocks he couldn’t capatilise of the starts he got. Being an important member of this batting line-up KKR needed Uthappa to take a more active role as a batsman in this season.
What next for them?
Well, I believe, KKR have started to build a team for the future. There is a nice blend of youth and experienced pros in this unit. Also, in coming years, the Gills, the Ranas, the Mavis, the Nagarkotis and the Krishnas will grow in stature as cricketers. Hence, in the coming season, this squad will be more experienced and more reliable.
Going into the IPL 2019, if KKR can plug its loopholes in pace bowling, at the start of the season I will definitely consider them as a strong title contender.