Following a fantastic start to the tournament, Kolkata Knight Riders' (KKR) campaign in the ongoing 12th edition of Indian Premier League (IPL) has taken a nosedive. On Sunday, Dinesh Karthik and Co. suffered their fifth defeat on the bounce and the "Men in Purple" are now in a serious danger of not making to the playoffs for the first time since the IPL 2015.
At present, it is a team in disarray, completely out of sorts in all three departments. In batting, they have been a one-man show throughout; their fielding, especially catching has been pathetically sloppy and as a bowling unit, they are the worst performing side in the competition this year. And now after being outplayed by Sunrisers Hyderabad, KKR have to win all their remaining four matches in the league stage in order to stake a claim for a spot in the final four.
However, here lies the million dollar question: Under the present circumstances, how will they turn things around?
Well, desperate times call for desperate measures.
So far, the conventional tactics haven't worked for KKR. Hence, they need to come up with an out of the box strategy which can take the opposition by surprise.
Like, sending their destroyer-in-chief Andre Russell up the batting order, preferably at No 4.
In this IPL 2019, the Jamaican has taken the concept of power-hitting to a different level altogether. After nine knocks in the competition, he has 392 runs with an incredible strike-rate of 217.77. The reality is, it is only because of his fierce batsmanship, the Kolkata-based franchise are still in the hunt for a spot in the playoffs. Out of the four triumphs, KKR have registered so far in the competition, Russell has almost single-handedly won them three games with the bat.
However, the KKR think-tank has often been guilty of not providing him enough overs in the middle to make a larger impact. As an example, we can highlight Sunday's fixture, in which, when Russell walked into the crease at No 7, there were just 27 balls remaining in the innings. Also remember, his team was setting a total and needed someone in the middle-overs to up the ante. But when the fourth wicket fell in the ninth over, the management surprisingly sent Rinku Singh at No 6.
For some unknown reasons, the KKR think-tank seems very conservative, when it comes to using Russell's batting skills more effectively. Perhaps, they believe the West Indian can have a significant impact as a batsman only in the death overs. However, whenever Russell had got enough overs to bat in T20s, he had shown the glimpses of his true capabilities as a batsman.
Last year, representing the Jamaica Tallawahs against Trinbago Knight Riders in a Caribbean Premier League (CPL) game, Russell came out to bat when his team was tottering at 41 for 5, chasing a mammoth 224. He slammed a 40-ball hundred (fastest in CPL history) from that situation and took his team past the finishing line with three balls and four wickets to spare.
Even in IPL this year on three instances, Russell got the opportunity to come out with more than eight overs remaining in the innings. And he made his presence felt as a batsman on each occasion.
By no means Russell is an outright slogger. He has the maturity of a batsman. More often than not, initially he takes a few deliveries to get used to the surface and conditions. In fact, on difficult wickets like Chepauk and Kotla, Russell has scored half-centuries this year without much fuss. So, from the point of view of skill-set, there is absolutely no argument against his promotion in the batting order.
Last week, following his heroics against Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Eden Garden, which almost sealed the deal for KKR from a hopeless situation, the Jamaican himself hinted his willingness to bat at No 4.
"I believe that [I should bat higher up the order]," Russell had said as when a scribe asked him regarding a promotion in the batting line-up "Honestly, you have to sometimes be flexible as a team. When you look at the make-up of our team, I don't mind going to bat at No 4."
The theory is simple in T20s – your best batsman should face the most number of deliveries. But so far in IPL 2019, Russell has only faced 180 balls and made such a massive impact in the tournament. As a batting unit, KKR rely so heavily on him that the decision of sending Russell as low as at No 7 defies logic. And time has come for them to reconsider this strategy.
Though, here they need to be a little more flexible as a team. Like, during a run-chase if things are under control, Russell can be held back, but while batting first, KKR have to send him at No 4 or 5 in order to provide the power-hitter some extra deliveries to maximize the damage to the opposition.
Yes, pushing Russell up the order is a huge gamble considering the lack of form of other batsmen in this KKR line-up. If he gets out early, the decision can backfire heavily. But under present circumstances, when the tournament has become a virtual knockout for the team, this is a risk worth taking. It will certainly be a positive move and positivity is what KKR are searching for at this juncture of their campaign.
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