iconimg Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sai Prasad Mohapatra, Hindustan Times
Abu Dhabi, April 16, 2014
Out in the Abu Dhabi heat, the Gautam Gambhir-led Kolkata Knight Riders were sweating it out to ensure the afflictions of last year don’t show up when they take on holders Mumbai Indians at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium on Wednesday. Often great starts were squandered away by the middle-order, and KKR are poised for a few changes.

Having off-loaded almost the entire team except captain Gambhir and their trump card Sunil Narine, KKR had to start afresh. As the team could not shake off middle-order woes in the last few seasons, it has prompted changes in the middle order. Manoj Tiwary, Eoin Morgan, Laxmi Ratan Shukla and Yusuf Pathan had formed the fulcrum of the batting. Barring a few occasions, KKR often crawled in the middle. That meant starts of 45-1 in the first eight overs were often reduced to 70-4, and the late order were in disarray.

Fresh ammunition
In a bid for course correction, KKR have picked Robin Uthappa and his Pune Warriors team mate Manish Pandey. Buying back Manvinder Bisla indicated trust bordering on loyalty. Same goes for Yusuf Pathan. It is more likely that Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan will get to play more than Dutch batsman Ryan ten Doeschate. KKR are looking for relief and hope their rearranged middle-order clicks.

“We have got Uthappa, Pandey and Shakib, we look strong in the middle-order than last year. Yusuf is still there, and we are hopeful he plays well,” said Trevor Bayliss, KKR coach. “But one thing is a must, no matter how strong your middle-order looks, that does not guarantee results. It is the responsibility of all 11 players to put up a good score.”

However, one decision that still merits a debate, notwithstanding the stature of the player involved, concerns Jacques Kallis. The South Africa great has retired from Tests and T20s, and the decision to still retain him using the joker card has failed to convince many. “Jacques has got great records. He hasn’t played cricket for some time now, but he is in great shape in terms of fitness. You write off Jacques only at your own peril. I will be surprised if he doesn’t do well,” said Bayliss.

While it remains to be seen how Kallis shapes up, it looks likely that it will be the middle-order that will dictate KKR’s course once again.