A two-time title winner who had the entire City of Joy chanting its name and serenading its stars after its glory run in 2012 and 2014, Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) have been off the pace and, need one say, way off its gilded past over the last few seasons.
Unlike 2018 and 2017 when they finished in the top four, the Kolkata franchise couldn’t even make the play-off stage last year. As they prepare for season 13 of the cash-rich domestic T20 league, they will perhaps look back on some lost moments which saw them slip in the race for the title.
Keen to erase the negativity around their failed campaigns over the last few seasons and start anew, the KKR management has introduced a change of personnel in the support staff. They have brought in former New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum as head coach.
A former Knight in shining armour, McCullum’s whirlwind 158 in the IPL’s inaugural tie in 2008 made him a superhero in the eyes of the KKR faithfuls and it is, perhaps, this aura that the owners hope will help him infuse fresh energy and zeal into the squad.
They had similar expectations from former Knight and South African all-rounder Jacques Kallis, who was in the hot seat last year. However, on his watch, KKR recorded its second worst finish in IPL history. Their worst was in 2009 when they finished their campaign as the bottom rankers.
They have also brought in former marquee David Hussey as the assistant coach. He replaces compatriot Simon Katich, who linked up with Kallis as part of the coaching arrangement last year.
Despite finishing fifth in the IPL points table last year, the KKR management has reposed its faith in skipper Dinesh Karthik.
The Tamil Nadu stumper also had a lean run with the willow last year, only aggregating 253 runs in 14 matches. As the curtains go up on another season of the showpiece domestic event, he knows full well he has to deliver the goods with the bat if he has to lead from the front.
However, it’s unfair to pin the blame on the skipper alone as their batting and bowling failed to come together far too often, resulting in them finishing outside the play-offs.
Going into Season 13 of the marquee event, KKR, on paper, has the bench strength to not only give the rivals a run for their money but also progress beyond the play-off stage.
In batting, they have a new face in 21-year-old English power-hitter Tom Banton. It’s understood that he will open for KKR. While there’s no clarity yet on who his opening partner would be, one assumes that the think-tank will go with explosive Delhi opener Nitish Rana.
These two apart, their batting has plenty of hitting prowess in Andre Russell or ‘Dre Russ’ as he prefers calling himself, skipper Karthik, young Shubhman Gill and England’s limited overs captain Eoin Morgan. Mystery spinner Sunil Narine has shown good striking ability in the T20 format and had even been used as a pinch hitter in earlier seasons.
However, it’s their bowling which has serious firepower this year and should give them hope of going all the way. They have quality options in the pace department in three Indian tearaways – Karnataka speedster Prasidh Krishna, Noida boy Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti of Rajasthan, who turned heads with his pace during India’s victorious Under-19 World Cup campaign in 2018.
Nagarkoti missed last season’s action because of injury and is keen to make up for lost time and opportunities this year. They also have Australian paceman Patrick Cummins, New Zealander Lockie Ferguson and Englishman Harry Gurney, considered a T20 specialist, in their pace reserves.
In the spin department, they have enough variety in Narine, chinaman Kuldeep Yadav, offie Rinku Singh, slow left-armer Manimaran Siddharth and promising leg-spinner Varun Chakravarthy. They also have veteran Pravin Tambe, who at 48, is still a handful with his leg-breaks and googlies.
With such quality on the bench, there’s no reason why KKR can’t make the play-offs and harbour title aspirations. One only hopes their third IPL crown don’t end up being a mirage in the desert sands of the Emirates. Here’s to ‘Korbo, Lorbo, Jitbo’.
Keywords: Indian Premier League, IPL, Kolkata Knight Riders, KKR, Dinesh Karthik, Brendon McCullum, David Hussey, Andre Russell, Shubhman Gill, Eoin Morgan, Sunil Narine, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Patrick Cummins.
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