The Kolkata Knight Riders endured a difficult start to the first leg of the 2021 IPL season and with question marks over the availability of certain key personnel, their march towards the front seems to have hit a roadblock before it even began.
The Kolkata Knight Riders have underperformed for the last two seasons. Once a force to be reckoned with under the leadership of two-time IPL-winning captain Gautam Gambhir, the Shah Rukh Khan-owned franchise have failed to touch the highs of their yesteryears ever since.
After revamping their squad following the 2018 mega-auction, Dinesh Karthik was tasked with leading the side, and the Tamil Nadu captain duly guided his team to the playoffs during his first season as captain, but two successive misses resulted in Karthik handing over the captaincy to Eoin Morgan midway through last season.
Full of youngsters and potential throughout their ranks, the franchise went into the 2021 mini-auction with a specific plan – adding experience to the squad. In came some solid experienced campaigners, the likes of Bangladeshi all-rounder Shakib Al-Hasan, veteran spinner Harbhajan Singh, Australian bowling all-rounder Ben Cutting and former Indian opener Karun Nair, while KKR bolstered their domestic ranks with the acquisition of Pawan Negi, Venkatesh Iyer, Sheldon Jackson and Vaibhav Arora.
However, having disappointed their fanbase during the first phase of the 2021 campaign, KKR will look to turn their fortunes around in the UAE. They currently sit seventh on the points table, having played seven games and managed to win just two, both against the struggling Sunrisers Hyderabad and the Punjab Kings.
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Eoin Morgan (c), Shivam Mavi, Shubman Gill, Sunil Narine, Tim Seifert, Varun Chakravarthy, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Vaibhav Arora, Karun Nair, Harbhajan Singh, Andre Russell, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Kuldeep Yadav, Lockie Ferguson, Nitish Rana, Prasidh Krishna, Rahul Tripathi, Sandeep Warrier, Rinku Singh, Shakib Al Hasan, Sheldon Jackson, Ben Cutting, Pawan Negi, Venkatesh Iyer.
Let’s take a look at the Strengths, Opportunities, Weaknesses, and Threats (SWOT) of the Kolkata Knight Riders for the second leg of the 2021 IPL campaign starting this 19th of September:
There is no doubt that KKR’s strength lies in their overseas contingent, something they’ve prioritised ever since Gautam Gambhir became their captain back in 2014. Most of their overseas players are proven match-winners who can turn the tide of a match at will. They have a captain in Eoin Morgan who has a proven track record, having led England to their famous 2019 World Cup triumph at home.
Their persistence with the Caribbean duo of Andre Russell and Sunil Narine over the years has borne fruits for the franchise as the two have been at the end of numerous match-winning performances for the purple brigade. Kiwi speedster Lockie Ferguson will terrorise opposition batters with his ruthless pace and menace, while all-rounder Shakib Al-Hasan is capable of winning matches both with the bat and the ball.
Moreover, the Knight Riders have a young fast-bowling contingent, with the likes of Prasidh Krishna, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi and Sandeep Warrier all in the mix and vying for those two slots to go along with the other spinner and two all-rounders, in what has been Kolkata’s tried and tested bowling combination.
As stated above, it’s the inexperience in this squad that has been failing them for the last two seasons. Moreover, their batting lineup is pretty weak for clutch moments. A lineup of Gill, Tripathi, Rana, Morgan, Shakib, Russell and Karthik won’t fill you with a whole lot of confidence simply because almost all of them have blown hot and cold for the first leg of the campaign and there are no adequate like-for-like replacements for these players.
Nitish Rana with 201 runs is the only KKR batter inside the Top 15 runs-getter list. Tripathi has 187 runs from seven innings and most importantly, their middle order is misfiring with Russell (163 runs), Gill (132 runs), Karthik (123 runs) and Morgan (93 runs). Their middle-order needs to find their batting gloves to salvage the second leg of the 2021 season.
Moreover, their marquee signing, Pat Cummins, has pulled out of the second leg, leaving Lockie Ferguson to spearhead the Knight Riders’ bowling attack, while both Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Varun Chakravarthy are yet to receive the green signal from the NCA to participate in the second leg of IPL 2021; both are undertaking fitness tests and are yet to receive clearance.
Dinesh Karthik gave up the captaincy last season to focus on his batting. It will be a golden opportunity for the wicketkeeper-batter to perform with the willow and consolidate his spot as the finisher. Karthik has amassed 123 runs with three unbeaten knocks so far at a strike rate of 138.2.
India’s spinning conundrum is likely to drag on till the end of the current IPL campaign, and having failed to represent his country against England after failing the Yo-Yo fitness test twice, Varun Chakravarthy will be gunning to make the Indian squad even more. The Tamil Nadu spinner was KKR’s highest wicket-taker last season with 17 wickets and this season too he has seven wickets against his name from as many games.
The current team have many loopholes and the biggest threat they face is the prospect of injuries to their bowling contingent. The bowling attack was already leaking runs with Pat Cummins and Varun Chakravarthy playing in the starting XI, and with Cummins unavailable and Chakravarthy an uncertainty, the future does look bleak for Morgan and his men.
Furthermore, the philosophy set by their coach Brandon McCullum and captain Eoin Morgan seemed to have the opposite effect on this side. Both like attacking, fearless and free-flowing cricket, but that has certainly taken away the sting from their top-order batters whose natural game is assessing the conditions and laying a foundation for the middle order. Hence why there have been so many KKR collapses in the recent past.
The Kolkata Knight Riders can definitely do with a major rebuild and the 2022 mega-auction couldn’t have come for them at a better time. They’ve put all their eggs in the ‘overseas players’ basket and that gamble has certainly not paid off. Moreover, these seven games will give the perfect opportunity to the KKR management to work on different combinations and single out the players they think are retainable for the 2022 auctions.