On Sunday, Lockie Ferguson played his first match of the season for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR). Kuldeep Yadav has only played in four. Kolkata Knight Riders have changed their playing XI on each occasion apart from one match.
Eoin Morgan took over the captaincy from Dinesh Karthik midseason. Few games ago, Sunil Narine was reported for suspected illegal bowling action. Andre Russell, the IPL's MVP in 2019 is struggling with the bat. Kolkata's multimillion-dollar player, Pat Cummins, has played in nine matches, but only has nine wickets to show. Despite all these obstacles and alteration, Kolkata sit fourth on the IPL table, four points clear of Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Kolkata’s form is difficult to gauge. They have scrapped and competed with all teams, but have failed to land the knockout blow. It was a similar case on Sunday, against Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH). Throughout the match, it felt like Kolkata could break away from the opposition, only to slide back into the contest.
At 87-2 in the 12th over, it seemed like a score in excess of 175 was on the cards, but KKR managed to scramble to 163, thanks largely to a cameo from Karthik. The scorecard summed up KKR this season, two players getting into the 30s and three in the 20s.
Look at the leading run-scorers chart for IPL 2020 and you will find Subman Gill at No 10 and Morgan at 15. A large part of that is due to the form and the lack of continuity. Gill has already had 5 different opening partners. Karthik started the season as high as No 3 and batted as low as No 7.
Russell has been tried out at every position and Morgan seems to be a floater. There is no problem with flexibility, but along with it should come some sort of stability. But try telling that to the Knight Riders and they will tell you that despite the unsteadiness they are sitting fourth on the ladder.
It is the same case with the bowling combinations. There is so much depth in pace bowling that Ferguson had to warm the bench for more than half the tournament. The Kiwi fast bowler produced the best bowling spell for the Knight Riders and was instrumental in their super over win. While the likes of Cummins, Shivam Mavi, and Kamlesh Nagarkoti have raw pace as well, it is Ferguson’s ability to bowl yorkers along with the way he disguises his slower ball that sets him apart.
Importantly, it was only the second time a Kolkata bowler had taken three wickets in a four-over spell. Similar to their batting, no Kolkata bowler features in the top 15 leading wicket-takers list this season. Varun Chakravarthy is 20th with just 7 wickets from his eight matches. But despite no bowlers topping any charts, they are still fourth on the ladder.
Perhaps it is the new coaching staff led by Brendon McCullum that is still trailing various theories. Nine matches in two the tournament and we are still unclear of Gill’s opening partner or what is the ideal position for Karthik or Russell? Teams such as the Mumbai Indians and Delhi Capitals look so settled while Kolkata is still putting together the jigsaw puzzle.
One can argue teams such as Mumbai and Delhi have peaked too early while Kolkata are yet to reach those lofty heights. Perhaps the coaching personnel believes unpredictability is their greatest strength. The inclusion of Ferguson in the playing XI against Sunrisers was a good example and it seemed to work perfectly. Changing the side and the batting order also means the opposition can’t plan as well.
The touch of unpredictability is something McCullum tried to inflict as a captain and perhaps that is one of the secrets of his coaching. However, the Knight Riders coach did reveal to the broadcaster during the match “we are watching how Delhi or Mumbai are using their fast bowlers”. No doubt McCullum is still evolving as a coach and as are the Knight Riders.
The Knight Riders' core players such as Gill, Russell, Karthik, and Morgan have been consistent but not brilliant. They still rely on that moment of brilliance to get them across the line. On Sunday, it was Ferguson that provided the moment of magic. But the reality is that Kolkata should have been more ruthless. They have the talent and the depth to trouble Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore, but the big question is can they find the right combination and strategy?
With five wins and four losses, they are at the crossroads. They may qualify for the finals but might prove to be an easy opponent for the top three teams. There will be cameos by Karthik or Russell or Ferguson or a Kuldeep, but can they finally deliver as a unit at the back end of the season? Only time will tell.
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