Korbo, Lorbo, Jeetbo. In keeping with the philosophy behind their much-celebrated slogan, Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) had applied themselves, fought well and ratcheted up a string of victories in the initial phase of Indian Premier League (IPL) 2017. But then they underwent a strange deceleration at the fag end, and consequently, were relegated to the last berth available for the playoffs.
For a team which had won seven of their first nine matches, and which had caught oppositions unaware and captured the imagination of cricket enthusiasts with some out-of-the-box strategies and spectacularly aggressive batting, squeaking to the playoffs, rather than roaring into them, as they should have, had to be a terrible disappointment.
In fact, for a large part of the tournament, it was a game of musical chairs between Mumbai Indians and Kolkata for the top two positions, but Kolkata ended up losing four of their last five matches and found themselves being leapfrogged by Rising Pune Supergiant and Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) on the points table.
Kolkata had finished poorly in the past two years too. In 2015, they missed the bus for the playoffs, even after being at the top of the table and last year, they left it till the last match to get a ticket.
The big speed-breaker in Kolkata’s campaign came against the Sunrisers at Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium on 30 April that marked the start of KKR’s nosedive in form. Such was the ferocity of the attack by Sunrisers captain David Warner that it left the KKR bowlers battered and bloodied.
Warner smashed a century off a mere 43 balls and ended up with 126 off 59 balls. He got stellar support from Kane Williamson who was all poise and guile and yet took the bowlers for 40 runs from 25 balls. SRH put up over 200 runs in their 20 overs and Warner and Williamson showed that day what was needed to ground the high-flying KKR bowlers.
KKR’s spin twins – Sunil Narine and Kuldeep Yadav – who had been potent weapons for the Purple Brigade were rendered totally ineffective, going at 12.33 and 10.75 runs per over respectively, and what was worse, went wicketless.
In the next match, Gautam Gambhir and Co ran up against Pune’s Rahul Tripathi, who followed in the footsteps of Warner and tore into the KKR bowlers apart. First, the Pune bowlers had restricted Kolkata to an average score of 155 and then, it was the Tripathi show at the Eden Gardens as the youngster plundered 93 off 52 balls, terribly unlucky to miss a well-deserved hundred.
Kolkata found their feet against a hapless Royal Challengers Bangalore as their batsmen pounded a below par bowling line-up to all corners of the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. Narine blasted the fastest half-century in IPL history – in just 15 balls – and Chris Lynn marked his return after an injury-induced layoff with an equally attacking fifty off 21 balls. Such was the brutality of the assault by Narine and Lynn that KKR galloped to 105 in the power play (first six) overs – an IPL record, and the match was over with plenty of overs remaining.
The feature of KKR’s campaign this year has been their batsmen going hell for leather early on. In fact, in the very first match of the season, against Gujarat Lions, Lynn (93 off 41 balls) and Gambhir (76 off 48 balls) unleashed such an attack that the match was out of Gujarat’s reach before they could even say ‘K-K-R’. Lynn had hammered a fifty off 19 balls in that match, which remained the fastest half-ton this year, before Narine yanked the record in his favour.
Lynn’s injury while fielding against Mumbai Indians in the next match seemed to have dealt a body blow to the Purple Brigade, but leave it to Gambhir to come up with the perfect riposte. There was a collective gasp of disbelief when he brought Narine out to open the innings with him, against Kings XI Punjab, instead of Robin Uthappa, who had been tried and tested at the opening slot. But then Gambhir is a captain who likes to tread off the beaten path.
Narine, from then on, has featured at the top of the KKR batting order on most occasions, with the mandate to go whole hog after the bowling. Yes, it is a gamble. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn’t, but what Gambhir achieved by having Narine opening the batting is that it forces out some runs from the West Indian, whose talent as a ‘pinch-hitter’ otherwise would have remained fallow. Add to that the wickets that Narine delivers, or the runs that he dries up, and his value in the KKR side has been inestimable.
So, though there is a feeling that the Narine experiment has run its course and the oppositions has sussed out the move, it would perhaps still make sense to have Narine opening. It would save the Gambhirs and Uthappas for later, and also there’s nothing to lose. In fact, KKR have been scoring at a rollicking rate of nearly 10 runs per over in the powerplay, thanks largely to Narine, and at a healthy 8.6 in the middle overs. It is only during the ‘death’ (16-20 overs) that their runs rate drops to a below par 8.47, and that is something KKR would want to rectify.
The good thing that has happened for KKR is that a number of their players have contributed from time to time, which has been one of the reasons for KKR’s dominance in the early part of the tournament. So Uthappa has played some solid innings, as has Manish Pandey. One clearly remembers the way Pandey guided Kolkata home under pressure at the Ferozeshah Kotla in New Delhi.
Among the bowlers, Chinaman Kuldeep has kept many an opposition batsman under his thrall. Speedsters Umesh Yadav and Nathan Coulter-Nile have also made some important contributions, while Trent Boult has bowled his heart out, while being unlucky.
The all-rounders – Chris Woakes and Colin de Grandhomme – have also come up with some handy contributions.
Against the Sunrisers at Bangalore, KKR will miss the services of the ace Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, who, like Woakes, has national commitments to keep. Shakib could have walked into the KKR side for the playoffs at the Chinnaswamy, where the pitch has been two-paced since it was being re-laid. Batsmen have struggled at Bangalore this year in the IPL, as they had during the India versus Australia Test a couple of months back.
In fact, the average score in 12 innings in the IPL this season at the Chinnaswamy Stadium has been a paltry 143.67, far less than the 181.3 in 18 innings last year. So there is perhaps merit in saying that KKR should go with three spinners at Bangalore.
While trying to spin a web around the opponent, KKR, however, have to be wary of the two quality spinners in the SRH lineup – Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi. The Afghans have been a magnificent success in the IPL this season, and hardly anybody has picked Rashid’s googly.
What has worked well for the Sunrisers is that their lesser-known Indian pacers – Siddarth Kaul and Mohammad Siraj – have provided admirable support to Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who has 25 wickets to his name and has almost made the Purple Cap his property. Bhuvi, as he is fondly called, has added a yard of pace or two and that, coupled with the swing he gets makes him tough to face.
The Punjab bowlers had shown that the big-hitting Kolkata batsmen can be choked with a mixture of slower balls, yorkers and knuckle balls. The Punjab spinners also did a fine job. The Mumbai versus Kolkata tie at the Eden Gardens showed that KKR’s aggressive batting can be a boon, but going overboard with the aggression can be a bane too, with a number of the Kolkata batsmen perishing in the bid to play unnecessary attacking shots. Warner and Tom Moody must have already been taking notes!
The Orange Army have been well served by Shikhar Dhawan and Moises Henriques in batting, while Yuvraj Singh is due for a big score. Warner, has almost extended a monopoly over the possession of the Orange Cap, as Bhuvneshwar has done with the Purple Cap. When you have the highest run-getter and highest wicket-taker from the same team, you can close your eyes and say that the team has done well.
KKR have a good record against SRH, having won seven of the 11 matches they played so far in the IPL, but one would remember, SRH got a win in the bag at a crunch moment last year – in the Eliminator, and it takes just one match to seal your fate. The two teams will clash in the Eliminator again this year, and it is going to be do or die for either team. They are tied 1-1 this year.
Kolkata would hope they can get Warner cheaply, like they did in the first leg, which they won. SRH would want to pay back Kolkata in their own medicine, the way they did in the second leg. Whatever happens, there will be entertainment guaranteed.
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Updated Date: May 17, 2017 13:09:37 IST