So far in this 2019 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) have won four matches and out of those on three occasions Andre Russell's individual brilliance made the difference between two teams. Even when they lost, the Jamaican never let himself down. But unfortunately, due to his colleagues, Russell's efforts have gone in vain at multiple times.
And now, following KKR's latest defeat against Delhi Capitals, the question arises, whether it is becoming a one man show for the "Men in Purple".
With 302 runs in six innings at the monumental strike-rate of 212.67, Russell has been by far KKR's most valuable batsman this season.
Courtesy of his fierce power-hitting, the Caribbean cricketer has taken his game to a different level altogether. However, barring him, the rest of the KKR batsmen have been quite conservative in their approach.
Sunil Narine, who is striking the ball at 185.10, is the second most aggressive batsman for KKR this season. But he has faced only 47 balls in IPL 2019. Being a pinch-hitter, whose job is to go after the bowlers in the Powerplay, Narine cannot be considered as a mainstream and a reliable batting option.
If we shift our focus to the specialist batsmen, the data shows, this season nobody has a strike-rate above 150 in the KKR camp with Nitish Rana topping this chart with 148.76.
In fact, experienced players like Robin Uthappa, Chris Lynn and skipper Dinesh Karthik are striking at less than 130 at present – 129.44, 121.49 and 116.25 respectively to be precise. In modern T20 era, this can be termed as way below par. And it is slowly but surely turning out to be an area of concern for the Knights' think-tank.
Perhaps, due to the heroics of Russell in the previous matches, the rest of the batsmen have taken their foot out of the accelerator. Everyone is just looking to set the platform for a Russell onslaught, rather than taking the initiative. And this approach had almost cost the team during their run chase against Sunrisers Hyderabad and Royal Challengers Bangalore. But Russell somehow bailed them out on those occasions. Only in the Rajasthan game, the top-order fired and some of the batsmen were seen hitting the ball according to their potential.
Remember, KKR's home ground is Eden Gardens, where the par score is around 180 or even more. Here, batsmen enjoy the bounce and carry of the pitch and can play their strokes freely. But even on a true surface like this, at times KKR batsmen have found it difficult to go after the bowling.
Friday night's match against Delhi was a classic example of that.
Batting first on a belter of a pitch, Russell's 21-ball 45 gave the home team the necessary acceleration in the final overs, which helped them post a competitive 178 on the board. When he came to the crease, KKR's scoring rate was just above seven. On a flat Eden pitch, with the prospect of dew later in the game, the home team desperately needed a final flourish.
However, knowing the importance of his wicket, initially, Russell was conservative in his approach. He took a few deliveries to get his eye in.
In the meantime, the hosts lost the wickets of a set Shubman Gill and Karthik in back to back overs. At that point, it seemed the KKR innings would lose momentum. But, by that time, Russell had the measure of the conditions. And when he unleashed himself, no bowler was spared, much like he had done it throughout this tournament.
When Chris Morris removed the big man with ten balls still remaining the innings, KKR's run-rate was touching the nine runs per over mark.
But in the rest of the deliveries, they could only manage 17. Russell's wicket certainly made a difference of 10-15 runs and that turned out to be a game-changer, as highlighted by Karthik in his post-match chat with the broadcaster.
KKR have reached the halfway stage of their campaign in this edition of IPL and despite these back-to-back defeats against Chennai and Delhi, they are still one of the favourites to make it to the playoffs. Perhaps, time has come for them to fine-tune their batting strategies. They need to provide a helping hand to Russell. It will be unrealistic to expect him to set the ground on fire with his power-hitting in every game.
Also, let's not forget that KKR bowling has struggled to get into its grooves in this year's competition. So, in order to counter this shortcoming, someone from the middle-order needs to up his strike-rate to 160-170 to get those 15-20 extra runs as well as provide some support to Russell.
And in this KKR unit, Karthik is the ideal candidate for this task.