Kolkata Knight Riders hoped changing the captain would herald a change in fortunes. If anything, the two-time champions have suffered further because of that move. They have been on the receiving end of two eviscerations and both captain Eoin Morgan and coach, Brendon McCullum, cut a sorry figure at the end of their last match against Royal Challengers Bangalore. The latter won that by eight wickets and 39 balls to spare.
After the game, the Irishman hoped Sunil Narine and Andre Russell would be available for selection down the line. "Hopefully Russell and Narine will be fit and available around the corner. Two guys of that calibre, particularly when they are all-rounders, is a big hole. Hopefully they will be available down the line."
That is true. Any side will suffer without the likes of Narine and Russell, but it's not as if the latter has played all that well thus far. That Kolkata are yet to find a solution to this problem shows why they are in this muddle in the first place. In a format where immediate problem solving and thinking on your feet are key currencies, Morgan & Co have been found wanting.
What has truly let the team down is the top-order's inability to play the first 10 overs without losing too many wickets. A loose top-order where combinations have been tried and discarded like they are shopping for items at a second-hand book store hasn't helped. The end results are scores like these: 5/100, 5/32, 5/115, 5/128, 7/89 and 5/61. Many teams have preserved wickets to open up at the death. Kolkata, though, haven't had that luxury because they are anyway half down for not many by the end of the 10th over.
Saying all that, it's incredible they are still frontrunners in the race to seal that fourth place on the table, with four games to go. With 10 points from as many games, they still have fate in their own hands.
If Kolkata are a side beset by problems, the same can't be said for Delhi Capitals, their opponents. Shreyas Iyer & Co already have a few body parts in the knockout stages and perhaps will assure themselves of a place with a win in Abu Dhabi. They have lost key men — Rishabh Pant, R Ashwin, Amit Mishra and Ishant Sharma — but have shown the value of squad depth to perfection.
While Kagiso Rabada (Purple Cap holder) and Shikhar Dhawan (in-form batsman with four consecutive 50s) have hogged the headlines, the support cast have quietly kept things chugging along in the background. Take for example, the roles of Ashwin, Anrich Nortje, Marcus Stoinis and Axar Patel.
Between them, the four have claimed 30 wickets and scored 291 runs. Even if the likes of Prithvi Shaw and, of late, Iyer have struggled for runs, they have performed as a collective throughout the tournament, rather than relying on individual brilliance.
It was a point Iyer alluded to after Patel's heroics at the end (he scored three sixes off the final over to close the Chennai match in their favour). "I knew if Shikhar stayed till the end, we would win, but the way Axar came out and hit those sixes, it was brilliant. Whenever we give out dressing room Man of the Match awards, he is always there. You see his preparations, they are always on point. We know the strengths and weaknesses of our team very well. We enjoy each other's progress. I just told one of my teammates today that the way Shikhar batted was mesmerising. As a captain, that gives you breathing space that someone can take your team to the end."
Another thing that drives home this assertion is the way the players have split the Man of the Match awards. They have won seven matches thus far and all seven have had different MOMs (Stoinis, Shaw, Iyer, Patel, Ashwin, Nortje, Dhawan). You realise that Rabada — one of the side's best performers — is yet to win one. If Kolkata's top-order insists on being dismissed for not many on Saturday, maybe it will be Rabada's turn.