IPL 2024: Bowling supremacy the key to KKR’s title run | Crickit

IPL 2024: Bowling supremacy the key to KKR’s title run

By, Kolkata
May 28, 2024 07:22 AM IST

Five bowlers taking at least 15 wickets highlights KKR’s clarity of thought in a season dominated by batters

For all the talk of not backing down from their audacious brand of batting, Sunrisers Hyderabad perhaps lost the IPL final even before a ball was bowled when Abhishek Sharma was asked to take strike against Mitchell Starc. Having never taken on the new ball from a fast bowler before in this IPL, there couldn’t have been a more precarious time for Abhishek to push the reset button. The idea was to protect Travis Head from a possible encore of an embarrassing dismissal by Starc, but it actually played into KKR’s hands.

Kolkata Knight Riders' Mitchell Starc runs to bowl during the IPL 2024 final.(AFP)
Kolkata Knight Riders' Mitchell Starc runs to bowl during the IPL 2024 final.(AFP)

This is exactly the kind of effect Kolkata Knight Riders’ bowling desired and achieved over other teams throughout this IPL. In a season where 200 plus scores came thick and fast, KKR’s run rate of 10.71 has been the best for any team in an IPL season. But more impressive is that 1.17 ratio between KKR's run rate with the bat and bowling economy this season, also the best for any team in an IPL season.

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It perfectly rounds up a campaign where KKR bowled out their opposition six times—again the most by any team in an IPL season—capping it with a one-sided win after dismissing Sunrisers for the lowest ever total in an IPL final.

At the root of this comprehensive performance was impeccable role clarity and a wide berth to the bowlers despite some initial hurdles. Starc would know, having started the IPL slower than most overseas recruits in recent memory, but peaking when it mattered the most. He swings the ball and has a mean yorker, but a weaker grasp of the slower ball went against Starc, especially at a smaller Eden Gardens where he leaked 10.9 runs per over.

Pit that against figures of 3/34 in the Qualifier at Ahmedabad and 2/14 at the final at Chennai (also comparatively bigger grounds) and you immediately know why KKR broke the bank to get Starc. “He is probably the best bowler in the world,” said KKR bowling coach Bharat Arun after Sunday’s win. “Once he understood the Indian conditions, he was excellent.”

Starc was the biggest but not the only piece of the puzzle that needed sorting. To complement him with Vaibhav Arora and Harshit Rana—both deft at taking pace off the ball and bowling cutters—was where KKR really aced the test since this had to be preceded by letting go of the more experienced Shardul Thakur and Umesh Yadav. Three genuine pacers, backed up by Andre Russell’s hit-the-deck brand of bowling in the middle overs, was exactly the kind of combination needed to keep batters on their toes.

Now add to this KKR’s spin attack, led by Sunil Narine who was handpicked by Gautam Gambhir, and Varun Chakaravarthy—also two of the slowest fielders of all time—and there’s no surprise why KKR wielded the sort of a stranglehold over the middle overs that they had. With KKR for 13 years now, Narine ending the season with an economy of 6.69 isn’t news anymore. But what can’t be stressed enough is how KKR’s backing throughout the lows—being banned and then again coming under scrutiny—must have pushed Narine to repay that faith, and more.

Not all of them peaked at the same time though. Starting the season with an economy of 13.75 against Sunrisers, Chakaravarthy’s economy in the next eight matches hovered around the 10-run mark. Only in his 10th match—against Mumbai Indians at Wankhede—did he finally look in better control. The curve went north from that match, culminating into a match-altering 2/26 in the Qualifier and 1/9 in the final.

“Not often you come across spinners who are experienced,” said Arun. “Spinners mature with age and so Sunny (Narine) with his experience and also Varun has been in the IPL for four to five years—both bowling in tandem has worked exceptionally well for us.”

The narrative could have been different had KKR chopped and changed the eleven like they often did in 2023, but not this time, very likely at Gambhir’s insistence.

“He made sure that every batter and every bowler was playing their part,” said Russell after the win.

Had Starc not injured his finger ahead of the Punjab Kings game, he would have featured in all of KKR’s 15 matches this season like Narine, Chakaravarthy and Russell. That’s a level of belief very few teams in the history of T20 cricket have invested in so many bowlers for such a long phase. And the results speak for themselves. Five bowlers from the same team ending with 15 wickets or more in an IPL season is rare, but not if they are from KKR.

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