IPL 2023: Few gains for KKR in a botched season | Cricket

It was always going to be difficult for Chandrakant Pandit to pull off a miracle in his first season as coach at this level. Shreyas Iyer’s unavailability due to injury didn’t help matters as well. Nitish Rana tried his best but KKR’s heart wasn’t at the right place. That the priorities too were muddled was evident from the way KKR tried to chase an impossible equation and floundered their way in what should have been an easy chase against Lucknow Super Giants in their final match, losing by one run. There was no consistency in performance. Losses came at high margins while some of the wins made KKR look like a champion team almost on the brink of a turnaround.

Kolkata Knight Riders(Bibhash Lodh) PREMIUM
Kolkata Knight Riders(Bibhash Lodh)

Position: Seventh, with 12 points. 6W, 8L

What went right?

Rinku Singh. That strike rate of 150 and an average of 59 barely scratches the surface of what he brought to the middle order. Holding the innings when required and attacking when the time was apt, Rinku was one of the very few things KKR got right. Among other Indian batters, Nitish Rana and Venkatesh Iyer were successful but slightly inconsistent.

Jason Roy, signed a week into the campaign after KKR weren’t getting Shakib Al Hasan, proved to be a great buy as he gave KKR some emphatic starts with Rahmanullah Gurbaz who was also a livewire behind the stumps. Roy was the reason KKR were finally able to make the most of the Powerplay but the impetus came a bit too late for the franchise to make a decisive push in their campaign.

Among the slow bowlers, Varun Chakravarthy—with 20 wickets and an economy of 8.14—was hands down KKR’s best bet. In fact, so good was Chakaravarthy that KKR didn’t hesitate to use him in the Powerplays and the slog overs. Among the pacers, Harshit Rana and Vaibhav Arora were quick and impressive but in patches.

What went wrong?

Most things. Delaying the declaration of the stand-in captain once it was clear Shreyas Iyer won’t be available for the entire IPL was perplexing. The top order was regularly chopped and changed. N Jagadeesan was given some matches before KKR settled on Roy and Gurbaz as openers before inexplicably demoting Gurbaz in their last game of the IPL.

Big question mark on the logic behind buying some players as well. Among the overseas players, Shakib withdrew and Litton Das flew back. Lockie Ferguson—traded from Gujarat Titans at a handsome price—was given just three games. Shardul Thakur, another expensive trade from Delhi Capitals, was fit to bowl just 21 overs in 11 matches. His only innings worth mentioning is the 29-ball 68 against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Umesh Yadav may be a useful bowler in Tests at home but he hasn’t really stepped up to this format.

Suyash Sharma was the new mysterious bowler and was quite effective in some matches but neither is he disciplined with his lines nor is he a good outfielder, as is expected from someone who hasn’t played first-class cricket ever.

But the biggest disappointments have been Sunil Narine and Andre Russell, both retained by KKR for years now. For all the hype around Russell, he came good with the bat in barely a handful of matches although he gave the team some crucial breakthroughs with the ball. But Narine, despite a good economy of 7.97, is just not the wicket-taker he used to be anymore and that is putting more pressure on Chakaravarthy and Sharma. And since the franchise refused to bench either of them, the likes of Tim Southee and Ferguson got few chances.

Where could they improve?

The Indian core of Rinku, Rana and Iyer looks set but KKR have to give the opening mandate to Gurbaz and Roy. Ferguson and Southee, if retained, have to be given a longer rope. But there has to be a rethink over Narine and Russell. Since only four foreigners can be played—and Roy, Ferguson/Gurbaz and Southee fulfill the batter, allrounder and fast bowler quota—KKR should ideally splurge on a middle-order batter since overseas spinners have rarely been successful in India. Thakur has to be another consistent part of the Indian nucleus if KKR want to throw in some support to Rinku in the lower middle order.

This season has given glimpses of KKR’s potential when Rinku hit five sixes in a row against the defending champions in Ahmedabad, or when they decimated RCB at home riding Thakur’s scintillating 29-ball 68. Pulling off a win against Chennai Super Kings at Chepauk after 11 years was possibly KKR’s highest point of the season. But they needed more wins to make that count. And for that, they need to play as a team and be consistent in their selection.

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