Kolkata Knight Riders all-time XI: Match winners galore in captain Gambhir’s army of Knights
After all 8 franchises had played two matches each in the inaugural edition of IPL in 2008, franchise owners, support staffs and even players were asked a common question by the official broadcasters – Who is favourite to win the IPL? Majority of them stressed that it’s too early to predict but when persuaded, they settled for Kolkata Knight Riders. It took KKR five seasons, a new captain, an entirely different set of players and support staff to make that prediction come true. A team that was built around former India captain Sourav Ganguly’s flair and owner and Bollywood’s ‘King Khan’ Shah Rukh Khan’s charisma, had to go for a complete revamp after three disappointing seasons. In came India’s fiery opener Gautam Gambhir and a new set of players like Sunil Narine, Yusuf Pathan, Jacques Kallis, who helped the team achieve success like it had never seen before. After two IPL titles – in 2012 and 2014 – the team went through another rebuilding phase when they let off an ageing Gambhir and gave the reins to Dinesh Karthik, under whom KKR finished third in 2018 and failed to qualify for the play-offs in 2019.
In our series of IPL’s all-time XI, we try and assemble KKR’s dream team keeping all the 12 seasons in mind.
Gautam Gambhir (C) (Matches: 122, Runs: 3345, 100/50: 0/30, SR: 124.72)
Sorry dada (Sourav Ganguly), Kolkata may belong to you but Kolkata Knight Riders belongs to Gautam Gambhir. Most runs, most fifties, most trophies, most wins – you name a KKR record and Gambhir has it all. The former India opener was instrumental in making KKR one of IPL’s most successful franchises after Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings. His consistency at the top, his aggressive captaincy and backing of young and raw talents like Sunil Narine, Suryakumar Yadav, Andre Russell made KKR a formidable unit. Gambhir had scored 590 runs in 16 matches at a strike rate of 143.55 – his best ever in IPL - when KKR lifted their maiden trophy in 2012.
Robin Uthappa (Matches: 91, Runs: 2649, 100/50: 0/17, SR: 135.84)
After plying his trade in Mumbai Indians, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Pune Warriors India, Robin Uthappa finally made a name for himself in the IPL when he was bought by KKR ahead of IPL 2014. The franchise’s second-highest run-scorer after Gambhir, Uthappa scored 660 runs in his debut season with KKR to run away with the Orange Cap in 2014. His partnership at the top with Gambhir is still KKR’s most successful one. In KKR, he was also given the added responsibility of ‘keeping wickets, which he performed to perfection and even earned a recall to the Indian limited-overs side as a wicket-keeper/batsman.
Jacques Kallis (Matches: 70, Runs: 1603, Wickets: 48)
What is Kallis doing in a T20 side’s all-time XI? To all those asking this question, here’s a mindboggling stat – Kallis played in all 64 of KKR’s matches in the 4 seasons he was a part of the franchise between 2011 and 2014. He batted at No.3 on most occasions and gave priceless 4 overs while bowling. Gambhir used his vast experience to perfection and threw him the ball whenever he needed a breakthrough or a couple of tight overs. The mighty South African rarely disappointed. In the IPL 2012 final when KKR had lost their best batsman Gambhir early in the 191-run chase, it was Kallis (69 off 49) who guided young Manvinder Singh Bisla to steady the innings and take KKR ahead of the asking rate.
Manish Pandey (Matches: 60, Runs: 1442, 100/50: 0/7, SR: 126.82)
Manish Pandey’s claim to fame was his century in IPL 2009 for Royal Challengers Bangalore in South Africa. He was the first Indian to notch up a ton in IPL but the right-hander never realised his full potential until he came to KKR with Uthappa in IPL 2014. Pandey scored 401 runs – his best in IPL - in his maiden season with KKR in 2014 but his biggest contribution to the franchise was his innings in the final of 2014 against Kings XI Punjab. Pandey scored 94 off 50 balls with 7 sixes to help KKR chase down 200 and win their second IPL title.
Yusuf Pathan (Matches: 122, Runs: 2061, 100/50: 0/7, SR: 135.94)
Someone who picks himself in KKR’s all-time IPL XI. The franchise’s most capped player along with Gambhir, Yusuf Pathan is also KKR’s third highest scorer with 2061 runs. Pathan played 8 seasons for KKR – also the joint-most with Gambhir and Narine – and in all of those seasons, he was an indispensable part of the playing XI. He won many matches for KKR but the most famous one was when they needed to chase down 161 in 15.2 overs against Sunrisers Hyderabad to stand a chance to qualify for the play-offs in IPL 2015. Pathan smashed an unbeaten 72 off just 22 balls with seven sixes to take KKR home in just 14.2 overs.
Dinesh Karthik (Matches: 30, Runs: 751, 100/50: 0/4, SR: 147.925)
The current KKR captain had big shoes to fill when was bought by the franchise ahead of IPL 2018 and he responded to them in style. Coming in to bat at No. 5, Karthik scored 498 runs in IPL 2018 at an average of 49.80 and a strike rate of 147.77. KKR finished third in that season and Karthik stood out both as a captain and as a finisher. The Tamil Nadu wicket-keeper batsman was not in his best form in the last season of IPL but the franchise has kept faith on him by retaining him as captain for the upcoming season.
Andre Russell (Matches: 63, Runs: 1407, Wickets: 56)
What if we say Andre Russell was bought for Rs 60 lacs by KKR ahead of IPL 2014? No, we have no plans of playing April fool in May. Russell was picked up by KKR after captain Gambhir spotted him playing T20s for the West Indies. The mighty West Indian played only 2 matches in 2014 but was made an integral part of the playing XI from 2015 onwards. Since then his lowest strike rate in an IPL season has been 164.91. That was when he hit only 15 sixes in 2016. His best season? The last IPL, where he scored 510 runs in 14 matches at a strike rate of 204.81 and hit a staggering 52 sixes. Add his bowling and fielding in the mix, he is easily one of the strongest contenders to even get into an all-time IPL XI.
Sunil Narine (Matches: 119 Wickets: 140 Econ: 6.56)
When you sit down to name a KKR all-time XI, you pick nine players as the other two are guaranteed to be Gautam Gambhir and Sunil Narine. If there is anyone who can throw a challenge to Gambhir’s supremacy in KKR then it’s the calm and cool Narine. An IPL legend, Narine picked up 20-plus wickets in his first three seasons with KKR and also won the purple cap with 22 scalps in the 2012 edition of IPL. He underwent an action-change in 2014 and was never the same menacing bowler again. But when he came back, he also added clean ball-striking to his arsenal and was also used as an opening batsman by Gambhir in quite a few matches for KKR.
Piyush Chawla (Matches: 76 Wickets: 71 Econ: 8.24)
His economy rate was on the higher side but was always a wicket-taker for KKR. His googlies and flippers were especially effective when the Eden Gardens track used to assist slower bowlers. Chawla’s best season was in 2014 when picked up 14 wickets in 11 matches at an economy rate of 7.67. Although known for his bowling skills, no KKR fan can forget Chawla’s contribution in the 2014 final, when he hir 13 runs off just 5 balls to take the team home.
Lakshmipathy Balaji (Matches: 42 Wickets: 44 Econ: 7.62)
After a successful IPL 2010 with CSK, Balaji was bought by KKR ahead of IPL 2011. The smiling assassin, as he was popularly known as in the KKR camp, played three seasons for KKR and impact in all of those. While bowled many useful spells in the middle overs for KKR, his most memorable one was against RCB in IPL 2012 when he dismissed the likes of Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers to pick up four for 18 in his 4 overs, leading KKR to a comfortable win.
Morne Morkel (Matches: 29 Wickets: 32 Econ: 7.80)
Many famous fast bowlers Shoab Akhtar to Shane Bond to Brett Lee and Trent Boult wore the KKR jersey but none could create the impact like Morkel did. In the three seasons that he played for KKR between 2014 and 2016, Morkel was a standout performer with the new ball.