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Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019

IPL 2019: Andre Russell’s big blows not enough to plug KKR gaps

With six playoff berths and two titles in the last eight seasons, Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) have been one of the most successful teams of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Then 2019 happened.

cricket Updated: Apr 28, 2019 11:42 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
File image of Dinesh Karthik
File image of Dinesh Karthik(PTI)

With six playoff berths and two titles in the last eight seasons, Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) have been one of the most successful teams of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Then 2019 happened.

“We have been playing some bad cricket in patches… I am disappointed we got defeated by a weak batting order like Rajasthan Royals (RR). Against a strong team like Mumbai (on Sunday) we are going to need miracles…. We have a good team but having a good team and making bad decisions, we will always lose,” said Andre Russell on Saturday.

Despite importing an array of stars and being led by Sourav Ganguly, KKR’s IPL journey hiccupped at the start. The returns from the first three seasons were modest: sixth twice, last once. Then, with Gautam Gambhir as captain, KKR turned around, winning in 2012 and 2014, and qualifying for the playoffs in 2011, 2016 and 2017. Succeeding Gambhir, Karthik took KKR to one match short of the final last year.

ALSO READ: Russell slams KKR’s ‘bad decisions’, says team atmosphere not healthy

This season too started well, KKR winning four of the first five games. But in those victories lay the warning signs. “KKR should have realised they were being Russell driven. He was papering over the cracks in the top order, which was either not scoring regularly or not scoring fast enough. In a very good season like this, Russell will win you five games on his own, not 10,” said former India stumper, Deep Dasgupta.

In only four of their 11 games have KKR out-scored their opponents in powerplay.

Russell tops the list of six-hitters and is why KKR have plundered runs at the death. He is this season’s sixth highest run-getter at 406 before Saturday’s match between Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad. Even last season, KKR had one batsman in the top 10: Dinesh Karthik (498 from 16 games). Like last year, KKR have two between 10 and 20: Nitish Rana (14th; 318 runs) and Chris Lynn (19th; 264 runs).

But unlike in 2018 when KKR had six batsmen in the top 25, this time they have three. Bowlers, specifically spinners, too have been underwhelming. Between them, Sunil Narine, Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla took 48 wickets in 2018. This year, Yadav, who took 17 wickets last term, has been dropped for lack of form; Chawla has nine wickets from 11 games and Narine eight from nine. KKR have taken 42 wickets, leaders Chennai Super Kings (CSK) 76.

“Irrespective of the nature of the wicket, KKR have been heavily dependent on spinners. This year, spinners have been miserable and Narine’s finger injury has played a part. Overall, I thought the spinners were a little defensive in their approach,” said Dasgupta.

With Russell taking 13 wickets, KKR had four bowlers in the top 20 last year. They have two so far: Chawla 16th, Narine 18th.

“We have bowled badly. We should have restricted teams to less totals and we have been perhaps the worst in the field,” said Russell.

“Why did KKR not invest in an experienced Indian fast bowler like, say, Ishant Sharma? When Shivam Mavi was injured, KKR picked (spinner) KC Cariappa. With Kuldeep going for runs, the plan to get 12 overs of spin needed a relook and KKR did not have a bankable bowler,” said Dasgupta.

“Like CSK, KKR have been a captain-driven franchise. Will CSK be the same without MSD? Don’t get me wrong, this is not a criticism of DK who, I think, has a good cricket brain and is a very good player. But is he is the right fit in this KKR set-up?

“That said, if not DK, who? I don’t have an answer. But this is something the management has to think about. They need to ask if they need a leadership group, say like SRH. More importantly, are there enough Indians in the coaching set-up who can look after a Nitish Rana, or a Kuldeep?”