To try and look forward to how Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) will fare in the 10th season of the Indian Premier League (IPL), we need to look back. Specifically to 2011 and 2014.
2009 was the worst it could get but for a team that had Sourav Ganguly as skipper, John Buchanan as coach and marquee signings such as Ricky Ponting, Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum and Shoaib Akhtar, finishing sixth in the first and third editions was just as bad. But from the worst of times KKR learnt their lessons, beginning with an overhaul of the squad.
Two titles --- the maximum along with Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians --- and four playoff berths in six seasons thereafter show that the turnaround has been as spectacular as the slump.
“I think we were confused as a group of individuals... The 2011 auction thus became very crucial… We asked ourselves whether KKR was about Sourav, about fans or about Shah Rukh and realised that we needed to do what was best for the team for the next 10 years. That, in turn, became the team ethos,” said Joy Bhattacharjya, team director from 2008-14.
Instead of breaking the bank for a top international batsman or a bowler, KKR invested heavily on getting Gautam Gambhir as skipper and opener, Yusuf Pathan as finisher and Jacques Kallis, perhaps the greatest all-rounder of all time. “And Sunil Narine helped us get over the hump in 2012,” said Bhattacharjya.
In 2014, KKR kept the core and added Robin Uthappa, Surya Kumar Yadav and Manish Pandey and it fetched them their second title. That they go into this edition under new coach Kallis having retained 14 players shows their belief that it’s not worth fixing something that isn’t broken.
Doing more of the same
Though they have won two high-scoring finals, KKR have struck to their philosophy that bowlers win matches; batsmen complement their efforts. Through Narine, Shakib Al-Hasan, Piyush Chawla, they would choke the opposition on most tracks that turn dry by April-May. And on pitches that offered purchase, they always had fast bowlers in Morne Morkel, Brett Lee and Andre Russell who could do damage.
It’s an idea they have struck to this time as well. Morkel’s been replaced by Trent Boult; Russell’s unavailability, KKR hope, would be compensated by a combination of Chris Woakes, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Jamaican Rovman Powell. Here for the Vijay Hazare Trophy last month, Pandey had rated Russell as a matchwinner. “His absence is a bit of a worry but I am sure we will have players with similar if not better talent replacing him,” said Pandey.
Gautam Gambhir: As skipper he brings intensity and the tactical nous. He’s got 2847 runs in 105 games so KKR bank on him to get a good start and often anchor the innings. Along with Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey and Surya Kumar Yadav, he would form the batting spine.
Chris Woakes: How he plays would be crucial to KKR’s fortunes because Andre Russell’s missing. KKR would hope his form in the one-dayers here and in the West Indies.
Umesh Yadav: He comes off a good series against Australia and KKR would hope he and Trent Boult form a good opening pair.
Play-offs 2011, 2016
Titles: 2012, 2014
The squad: Gautam Gambhir, Sunil Narine, Kuldeep Yadav, Manish Pandey, Suryakumar Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Robin Uthappa, Shakib Al Hasan, Chris Lynn, Umesh Yadav, Yusuf Pathan, Sheldon Jackson, Ankit Singh Rajput, Trent Boult, Chris Woakes, Rishi Dhawan, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Rovman Powell, R Sanjay Yadav, Ishank Jaggi, Darren Bravo, Sayan Ghosh.