In the 11-year history of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) have always been known for their unorthodox tactics. Be it the infamous multiple captain theory of John Buchanan, Gautam Gambhir's innovative field setting against Mahendra Singh Dhoni, or even the decision of opening the innings with Sunil Narine — KKR never cease to amaze us with their innovative strategies. In fact, it can even be said that it's by implementing these unconventional gameplans that KKR enjoyed a fair bit of success in the past.
In the current season, however, the purple brigade seem to lack clarity about their tactics, which is very uncharacteristic of them. Maybe it's just the start of the season and it's a new-look think-tank in charge which is yet to settle into the job. But some of these strategic blunders have already cost KKR.
Saturday's fixture against Sunrisers Hyderabad is a classic testament to that.
While captain Dinesh Karthik and the support staff deserve credit for picking India's Under-19 World Cup winning stars Shubman Gill and Shivam Mavi in the playing XI, the duo hardly got an opportunity to showcase their talent. It was a bold decision, but one marred by poor planning on part of the team management.
Having lost the toss and asked to bat first on a fresh Eden Gardens wicket, KKR were not willing to risk exposing Sunil Narine against the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Billy Stanlake early in the innings. It was a well thought-out call. The stage was perfectly set up for someone like Gill, a top-order batsman and technically better equipped to play the new ball, to open the innings alongside Chris Lynn and play out the initial spell of Sunrisers' new ball bowlers.
However, KKR sent out Robin Uthappa instead, and ultimately, sacrificed his wicket.
Gill did get a chance but at No.7, with only 39 balls left in the innings. The 18-year-old had no clue about how to go about his business.
Mavi, the other teenager in the playing XI, whose primary job was to bowl pace, got only one over, that too the 15th of the innings, with the opposition needing only 37 off the last 36 balls.
In his post-match presser, Karthik justified his decisions by talking about the team dynamics and the 'horses for courses' theory. But the truth is, he once again failed to utilise his resources properly.
And this was not the first time either, KKR's new captain had made the same mistake in the previous two matches as well. Against RCB, Andre Russell was KKR's best bowler, but he was not given the ball in the death overs when Mandeep Singh was hitting all around the park. In the next fixture against CSK, two of KKR's better bowlers on the night — Kuldeep Yadav and Tom Curran — did not even complete their quotas.
Coming back to Saturday's match, sending Narine at No.4 was another tactical error. It seemed like the plan was to counter-attack SRH's spin duo of Shakib Al-Hasan and Rashid Khan. KKR wanted to demoralise the SRH spinners before Russell's arrival at the crease. But the think-tank should have realised that on a two-paced wicket, it can't be a cakewalk for a pinch-hitter to keep slogging against two quality spinners, especially when the field is back.
Instead, they should have asked Karthik himself to go out and steady the ship and lay the foundation for a Russell onslaught in the death overs.
But when the Narine experiment failed to materialise, and a well-set Chris Lynn was out soon after, the KKR dug-out clearly panicked and sent in Russell with the license to kill. That was exactly what the doctor did not order at that juncture of the match. The West Indian too was out cheaply and the thoughlessness of the plan was thoroughly exposed.
KKR had more than six overs to bat, but little idea of how to approach them.
While defending a below-par 138, KKR's seamers disappointed once again. They gave away 79 runs in seven overs. There were plenty of unnecessary short balls, which the Sunrisers batters utilised properly. It was only because of the efforts of their spin trio that the hosts could even drag the match till the 19th over.
Following this scratchy show, it is high time for the likes of head coach Jacques Kallis, bowling coach Heath Streak and the other support staff to review their gameplan.
They need to provide the right kind of guidance to Karthik from the dug-out. KKR play their next fixture on Monday and if they want to get past Gautam Gambhir's Delhi Daredevils, these tactical loopholes need to be plugged quickly.