Kolkata Knight Riders’ worst performance of IPL 2016 places them on edge

Kolkata Knight Riders picked a terrible time to turn in their worst performance of the 2016 IPL. Their six-wicket loss to the Gujarat Lions - with a massive 6.3 overs to spare - has left KKR on the bring of missing the Play-offs.

It was also the latest mis-step in what is becoming a swiftly unravelling season. This was Kolkata’s third loss in their last four games and their fifth in their last eight. Their normally impregnable fortress of the Eden Gardens has been breeched repeatedly this year, and their home record stands at a disappointing 3-3. After starting the season with five wins out of six, they have strangely regressed, aided by some odd choices with their bowling attack and baffling choices in their batting order.

Dwayne Smith celebrates the wicket of Manish Pandey. BCCI

Dwayne Smith celebrates the wicket of Manish Pandey. BCCI

Already missing an injured Andre Russell and therefore needing the other players to pick up the slack, their batsmen simply failed to show up in Kanpur. For a team that bats as deep as Kolkata does, this is unacceptable. Aside from Yusuf Pathan, who demonstrated some common sense on a difficult pitch, the rest seemingly batted without any understanding of the conditions or the faltering fortunes of their campaign.

The dismissals of the top three exemplified KKR’s unfocused approach.

Gautam Gambhir was run-out in absolutely comical fashion, having raced half-way down the pitch without waiting to see if Robin Uthappa’s flick beat the fielder at short-midwicket. It didn’t and from his knees, Shadab Jakati fired a laser that knocked down the stumps at the keeper’s end. Gambhir meanwhile couldn’t make up his mind whether to turn back or keep going and so momentarily stopped. The hesitation proved fatal.

Gambhir shook his head all the way back to the dug-out but he had no one to blame but himself. Three overs later Uthappa, who had been batting well until then, hung his bat at one that bounced and seamed away from Dwayne Smith. It was a nothing shot and the keeper gleefully accepted the catch.

In between those wickets, Manish Pandey guided another Smith delivery straight to Suresh Raina at slip and Kolkata repeated the error of a previous game by sending in Piyush Chawla at No 4 instead of Yusuf Pathan or Suryakumar Yadav. On a track where batting was not easy, Chawla was never going to him them out of trouble. He ended up making 11 from 16 balls with one four.

As a result, at the end of ten overs, Kolkata had limped to 55 for 4, their lowest total at the half-way mark this season. Their final total of 124 was 30 or 40 runs below par. Smith finished with 4 for 8, which is like being held up by Bugs Bunny instead of Bonnie and Clyde.

Most worryingly, the team seems to be missing the spark that can reignite their season. In the past, Sunil Narine has often come to their rescue but his remodeled action has rendered him mortal, at least for now. With the ball, only Chawla and Russell have offered consistency. The batting too is stuttering. Gambhir and Uthappa as a partnership have gone off the boil while Pandey has been badly out of form. Russell, who was their inspiration last season, hasn’t seen enough of the crease because he has been batting too low in the order. Only Yusuf has stood tall. Without him, the season may have slipped away before now.

All is not lost. Kolkata Knight Riders can still mathematically qualify for the Play-offs in the 2016 IPL with a win against table-toppers Sunrisers Hyderabad in their final match on Sunday. That game will be played in Kolkata and Sunrisers will be without Ashish Nehra, who is injured, so KKR at least have that going for them.

Last year Knight Riders lost their final two games to finish fifth after starting strong. Gambhir has insisted the team has learned their lesson from that failure. As captain, it is up to him now to lift his team and save their season.

Come Sunday at the Eden Gardens, we shall find out whether he will succeed or fail.

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Updated Date: May 20, 2016 12:41:11 IST

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