A season, which started in an emphatic fashion for the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) finally came to a miserable end on Sunday (5 May) when Dinesh Karthik and company was completely outplayed by the Mumbai Indians in a virtual knock-out fixture at the Wankhede stadium. In order to qualify for the last four stages, KKR were required to win this final game of the league phase of IPL 2019.
However, the misfiring unit completely succumbed under pressure and failed to put any sort of resistance against Rohit Sharma and Co. As a result, for the first time since 2015, the 'Men in Purple' will not feature in the playoff round of the IPL.
As a franchise, the IPL 12 has been a massive eye opener for the KKR think-tank. Traditionally known as a very settled and consistent unit, they don't generally prefer experimenting much with their squad. However, throughout this season, the ultimate hollowness in this line-up has gradually been exposed.
Let's start this postmortem from the batting department.
KKR started their campaign in the IPL 2019 by winning four out of their first five encounters and majority of those were high-scoring matches. However, a deeper analysis will show that amongst those four, Andre Russell won them at least three games with his individual brilliance after the rest of the batting messed things up in the middle-overs.
There is no denying that fact that the over-dependency on Russell's late order hitting, had made the rest of the KKR batting line-up a little bit of reluctant. Especially, in the first and middle part of the season, some of the batsmen unnecessarily went into a shell and became far too conventional with their approach, which is evident from their strike-rate at the end of the season.
Barring Russell, the only other KKR batsman who has strike-rate of above 150, is Sunil Narine, the usual suspect. But the left-hander had struggled with his batting form throughout. He faced only 86 deliveries in the entire season and scored 143 runs. In the final half of league stage, when KKR were desperate for victories, the management decided to remove Narine from the opening slot and gave it to young Shubman Gill, who was initially being wasted at No 7.
Perhaps, the Knight's camp missed a trick by persisting with the misfiring (Chris) Lynn-Narine partnership for far too long. That decision of promoting Gill at the top-order, should have been taken much earlier in the tournament.
Nevertheless, after Russell's 510 runs in 14 league games, the next best KKR batsman was Chris Lynn with 404 runs, who too has struggled with his consistency.
In the other franchises, when at least 2-3 batsman have scored runs on a consistent basis, in the Knight's camp it has been more or less a one-man show. Interestingly, having batted mostly down the order, Russell, the team's best batsman, had faced only 249 balls in the entire IPL 12, which is absolutely unacceptable. For the major part of the competition, despite being an in-form batter, the think-tank failed to provide enough overs for Russell to maximise the damage, which has been a huge strategic blunder on the part of KKR.
Even skipper Karthik (253 runs at an average of 31.62) and Robin Uthappa (282 runs at 31.33) - the backbone of this KKR middle-order has had a scratchy season. Uthappa, to be specific, seems well past his prime. His season strike-rate is just 115.10, which is way below par in modern T20 standards.
Let's not forget that KKR play their home games at Eden Gardens, which is arguably the best batting surface in the country. So, even in favourable batting-friendly conditions, the KKR batting line-up, apart from Russell, had struggled to get going.
Now, talking about the bowling, KKR perhaps had fielded the worst attack in the competition. The bowlers, especially their much fancied spin-trio of Sunil Narine, Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla haven't lived up to the pre-season expectations at all. Though Narine had found some form at the back end of the league stage and finished with 10 wickets in 12 games with an economy rate of 7.82 but the other two wrist-spinners had gone from bad to worse.
Instead of taking wickets and putting the opposition under pressure in the middle-overs, both Kuldeep and Chawla had leaked runs. The situation became so pathetic that the team management had to drop Kuldeep, the premier spinner in the country, from their playing XI, in the last five matches.
In comparison, the KKR pacers had a slightly better outing with Russell topping the list of wicket-takers with 11 scalps. But he gave away runs at 9.51 per over. Coming into this IPL season, the likes of Lockie Ferguson, Prasidh Krishna and Harry Gurney were expected to be the X-factor of this KKR pace attack, but in reality, in most occasions they were treated with disdain by the opponent batters. In contrast, young Sandeep Warrier, who was a late replacement of injured seamer Kamlesh Nagarkoti, had impressed with his control and accuracy with the new ball in the three games he played.
In IPL 2019, the KKR bowlers were tasked to defend a score on seven occasions, but they were successful only twice, that too when the target was above 210. This performance sums up their efforts with the ball in this competition.
And finally, as a captain, Karthik has been an absolute failure this season. His strategic mistakes on the field as well as in the dressing room, have cost the team severely. Surprisingly, at times, even when the situation demanded, Karthik seemed quite reluctant to be flexible with his decision making. And in a recent press conference, Russell referred to this overall scenario in the KKR change room as 'not the most healthiest'. He, in fact, questioned the decision-making of think-tank, which includes the captain as well.
Overall, this has been a season to forget for the Knights. Next year they should come back with fresh strategies and perhaps with a few new faces. This team needs quality seam bowling options, purely because they are based out of Kolkata, the venue with the bounciest pitch in the country. In batting, someone like Uthappa is nothing but an excess baggage. He must go and for that vacant place, the management should look towards the domestic players who are consistently getting the runs in white-ball cricket.