Two-time champions Kolkata Knight Riders' biggest worry last season was their inconsistency. A lot of that had to do with how they planned their XI throughout the tournament. They had been implementing a tested template for the last two years but at the 2020 auctions, they made some much-needed changes.
The 2020 squad looks a completely different outfit, with only a couple of players from the Gautam Gambhir era left in the side. They, in fact, look one of the most ominous squads in the tournament. The domestic talent and overseas pool KKR possess this year must instill huge faith in the owners and the fans.
Led by Dinesh Karthik, KKR will begin their campaign on 23 September against Mumbai Indians, they are the last of all teams to play their first game and this scheduling may have to do with many of their overseas players playing international cricket before arriving in UAE.
Let's look at some key features of this new KKR setup and what they can offer in IPL 2020
What a trio. Dinesh Karthik led the KKR to the Qualifiers in his first stint with the team as captain where they lost to Sunrisers Hyderabad. The last season did not see an ideal finish. However, the hard decisions he has made as the captain in terms of letting some KKR veterans go and building a new team is a sign that he is thinking in the right direction. It is now about the right implementation of the plans and strategies on the field.
Karthik has also been one of the most unfortunate players for India in terms of selection, getting overlooked in the last two years, not featuring in enough limited-overs games for his national side, despite making runs. His strike rate of 143.52 is a good proof of his T20 batting prowess. Last season, his decision to push himself down the order backfired with KKR consistently struggling to make runs. It was only later when he and Russell decided to bat at No 3 and 4 that KKR won a couple of games to finish fifth on the table.
6 Balls, 24 Runs ✅
— KolkataKnightRiders (@KKRiders) September 12, 2020
In Karthik, KKR has an able captain and a T20 batsman who should be batting up the order. To his benefit, he now has the company of Eoin Morgan, who is a no-nonsense, straight forward and a successful limited-overs captain. Morgan is a great leader today and has massive captaincy experience with him. In DK, Morgan and coach Brendon McCullum, who himself has been a great captain for New Zealand, KKR have leaders who can bring new thinking to the team.
McCullum was known for his attacking mindset as a captain. Morgan has developed a professional T20 team back in England, where mere rotation of strike isn't enough as per the philosophy. The two modern T20 thinkers and Karthik can help build a brand of cricket for KKR that has still been undiscovered in IPL. It will be interesting to see how this partnership performs this season.
Gill as an opener
A remarkable talent, Shubman Gill has not made heads turn yet in the IPL. Batting mostly in the middle order for KKR, he has not been able to convert starts into big scores.
This season, with Chris Lynn gone, KKR may look to open the innings with the Punjab batsman and expectedly with swashbuckler Sunil Narine, who just knows one way to bat. Gill did get some chances to open the innings in the last two seasons but he would be wanting to get a longer run this season as an opener.
The kind of stroke maker that the Punjab batsman is, and the range of shots he possesses, his potential needs to be tapped right at the top order. A solid opening pair has a great effect on a team's performance in the league. IPL 2020 might just be the time for Gill to arrive after two years of ordinary outings, as per his standards.
McCullum has already marked the young batsman as a part of the leadership group, and these are signs that KKR are looking at him as a future leader.
Setting the right combination from the word go
KKR need to be smart enough to know what works for them on expectedly dry pitches of UAE from Game 1. They are strong in every department - some very good young Indian talent, a dangerous pace attack, experienced spin department and quality overseas pool. The playing XI has to be designed around the four players - Karthik, Andre Russell, Narine and Morgan. These four are all T20 or limited-overs specialists and smart cricketing brains as well. The experienced Morgan and Karthik should bat up the order after Gill and Narine, followed by Morgan, letting the likes of Rana and Tripathi/Lad take charge in the middle overs and then unleash Russell at the deep end of the innings.
Considering the slow nature of pitches in the UAE and also the fact that all matches will be played at just three venues, the tracks are expected to be overused, hence slower. Spinners are expected to play a huge role over there. KKR are formidable in that department as well, with Narine and Kuldeep Yadav being the starters. They also have the services of a slow left-arm orthodox M Siddharth and mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy, so the range of spinners is really good. It is also important that Kuldeep forgets the ordinary last season he had and starts afresh. If he gets going, on the UAE tracks, it will be tough going for opponents.
With pace attack led by Pat Cummins and Prasidh Krishna, whose medium pace may just suit the conditions in UAE, KKR look a more-than-decent team on paper.
Not to forget, the pace department also has quality with the presence of Lockie Ferguson alongside Kerala speedster Sandeep Warrier and new addition, the first cricketer from the USA to be a part of the IPL, Ali Khan, who joined the team from the Caribbean islands after a successful stint with the champions TKR, a week ahead of tournament's opening game.
KKR cannot complain about the team on paper. Now, It all comes down to how quickly they become a potent force in the tournament and the consistency with which they play right through the tournament. It's been a long time since they lifted the trophy, the year must be aimed at getting the trophy back home and also build a new brand of cricket for KKR.
Squad: Dinesh Karthik (captain and wicket-keeper), Eoin Morgan (Overseas), Tom Banton (Overseas), Kuldeep Yadav, Rinku Singh, Andre Russell (Overseas), Sunil Narine (Overseas), Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi, Nikhil Naik (wicket-keeper), Pat Cummins, Prashidh Krishna, Chris Green (Overseas), Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana, Rahul Tripathi, M Siddharth, Sandeep Warrier, Varun Chakravarthy, Siddhesh Lad, Ali Khan (Overseas), Lockie Ferguson (Overseas).
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Morgan will be joining the side after leading England to their maiden World Cup glory in 2019 and Rana, who led Delhi at domestic level, is excited.