IPL 2016: Muddled team selection and over experimentation hurting Knight Riders

In the three games that Manish Pandey has missed on account of chicken pox, Kolkata Knight Riders have sent in three different batsmen at No 3. Suryakumar Yadav walked out against Rising Pune Supergiants, Shakib Al-Hasan against Mumbai Indians and finally Piyush Chawla against Delhi Daredevils. Kolkata managed to squeeze past the Giants in the first of those games, but were beaten handily by Mumbai and Delhi, the latter on Saturday by 27 runs.

In both those losses, they made unorthodox decisions about whom to send in after losing their first wicket. Shakib had never batted at No 3 before, and it showed. He had a clear mandate to go after the bowling following an opening partnership of 69, but all it resulted in was a few wild swings before he top-edged a hook to the keeper. It just isn't the kind of innings Shakib is used to producing.

Delhi Daredevils learnt their lessons from the first match defeat to KKR. BCCI

Delhi Daredevils learnt their lessons from the first match defeat to KKR. BCCI

Chawla was an even stranger choice. Chasing 187 against Delhi, it was clear he was sent in to try and score some quick runs after Gambhir Gambhir fell early. "187 on any kind of wicket is a tough total because you have to keep hitting," Gambhir said after the game. But Chawla's career IPL strike-rate happens to be 116.47. He's also never scored more than 106 runs in one season, his career highest score is 24 and his career average is 12.55. As pinch-hitters go, this was a strange choice, even considering that KKR were willing to sacrifice a wicket. Chawla doesn't have the technique to stay at the crease, nor the skill or power to make a quickfire 30 Kolkata appeared to want at that stage. This was also only his second innings in the IPL this year. The odds of him failing were huge.

Also, Suryakumr made a match-winning 60 against Pune batting at one-drop. He would have been a much more appropriate choice to do so again, but was overlooked on two occasions since that knock. He has come in at No 4 and 5 against Mumbai and Delhi respectively. On Saturday, even Andre Russell would have been a better option at one-drop, but KKR clearly wanted to keep him in reserve to finish the game. Except they forgot they needed to get to a position where the game could be finished by Russel. By the time he walked out to bat at No 7 — even Rajkumar Satish was sent in before him — the asking-rate had zoomed past 12 runs an over.

When Pandey is healthy, he typically provides that bit of stability in the top or middle order. He has the technique to play the long innings (in relative terms considering this is T20 cricket) and also to score quickly, as he demonstrated with his match-winning 94 in the 2014 IPL final. In his absence, the batting order (and team composition) has been shuffled more times than a card shark shuffles a deck. Except for the openers, none of the other batsmen have played in the same position for three games. Teams do need to be flexible in T20 cricket and players expect to be shunted up and down the order, but too much change is damaging.

Having got off to a good start in the tournament, Kolkata appear to be confused about their best playing XI and how to maximise their batting potential. In their first game, they routed Delhi by nine wickets, having bowled them out for 98. In this game again, KKR took two wickets in the first over and it appeared like a similar rout was on. However, Delhi had learned their lessons and Karun Nair led the recovery before West Indies World T20 hero Carlos Brathwaite finished the job.

Gambhir reckoned his team had given away too many runs by the end of it, saying that he didn't think Delhi would get more than 150 especially after the start his bowlers got. Knight Riders have now lost two in a row and Daredevils have leapfrogged them in the points table with this win to move into second place. One team is headed in the right direction. One team is not. "We haven't played smart cricket in the last couple of games and they haven't gone in our favour," Gambhir said.

The good news is that after their next game against Royal Challengers Bangalore on 2 May, Knight Riders head home to the Eden Gardens for four games on the trot and will have an opportunity to right the ship.

Updated Date: May 01, 2016 12:55 PM

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