Batting collapses, needless chopping and changing: How KKR botched up their IPL 2020 campaign
Frequent chopping and changing, a possibly needless captaincy change, a spent Narine - a look back at another season to forget for KKR. What are the problem areas they need to address? Find out.
2020 IPL was no different for Kolkata Knight Riders. Despite a strong start, they failed to qualify for the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
Seven wins and seven defeats and a poor net run rate (-0.21) meant teams like Royal Challengers Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad went ahead of them in the points table.
The team had a change in leadership, with Dinesh Karthik and Eoin Morgan swapping their roles as captain and vice-captain. The Knights expected this to change their luck, like had happened with RCB (Anil Kumble took Bangalore to the IPL 2009 final after taking over the captaincy from Kevin Pietersen) and the Mumbai Indians (Ricky Ponting handed over the reins to Rohit Sharma after the first couple of games and the team won their first IPL trophy). But all that happened with KKR was their performance going further downhill.
Despite beating the CSK and Kings XI Punjab at the beginning of the tournament, KKR managed to give away four points when they met the same teams again towards the business end botching up their qualification chances. They couldn't remove the tag of being 'Mumbai's Bunny' either.
A look at how the KKR campaign came unstuck:
Andre Russell and Dinesh Karthik's horror run
Russell's 'Muscle Power' went cold this time around. With only 117 runs in 10 outings, he found it difficult to survive beyond 10-15 deliveries. He also missed four encounters due to recurring hamstring injuries. Despite his over 144-run strike rate, he could not manage more than four big hits on an average.
While he came in handy as a death bowler (six wickets in ten matches) in a few of the Knights' victories, the batting was let down on a consistent basis by Russell's horror run with the bat. For the Jamaican all-rounder, IPL 2020 was a washout unlike the 2019 edition, where he scored 510 runs at an average of almost 57.
Like Russell, Karthik too failed, scoring only 169 runs in 14 innings, with one solitary fifty-plus score. Apart from being a regular LBW and caught-behind candidate, he also managed to get bowled while sweeping spinners.
In KKR's last group game against Rajasthan Royals, Karthik inside edging the straighter delivery of off-spinner Rahul Tewatia into the hands of Steve Smith in the short mid-wicket region, while trying to play a cover drive to open his account, summarized the horror run of the wicketkeeper-batsman in the tournament.
Also, the team management's move to push him up the order further complicated the matter, despite Karthik's only fifty (29-ball 58) coming at his usual number five position.
Was the change of guard really needed?
After the first seven matches, KKR's stats read four wins (including two tight finishes against KXIP and CSK) and three losses. Then came the big leadership change, with Dinesh Karthik handing over the reins to Eoin Morgan, England's 2019 World Cup-winning skipper.
Morgan's aggressive nature fitted perfectly with McCullum's plan. While the fans expected an upswing in Knights' performances, the whole move backfired as the franchise could manage only three victories in the next seven games.
Morgan felt it was okay to continue making frequent changes in the playing XI. Significantly, in encounters, when things were not going as per the plan, he couldn't inspire the boys. Here are some of his erroneous on-field calls:
In the crucial reverse fixture match against Chennai Super Kings in Dubai, KKR was well on course to defend 173 runs as both Ruturaj Gaikwad and Ambati Rayudu were finding the going tough. But in the ninth over, part-time off-spinner Nitish Rana arrived and gave away 16 runs, thereby giving the opposition the much-needed momentum to pull off the chase.
Against Sunrisers Hyderabad, Warner and Co were left needing 18 runs in the last over in a 164-run chase. Despite Shivam Mavi and Kuldeep Yadav having one over each, Morgan placed his trust in an injured Russell. 17 runs were conceded in the next six balls and KKR had to win the game via a super over.
In the last group game against Rajasthan Royals, despite the latter tottering at 37-5 in their chase of 192 runs, Morgan didn't gun for the 81-run victory margin that could have helped KKR's net run rate. Rajasthan finished at 131-9 and Hyderabad's ten-wicket win against Mumbai ended KKR's play-off hopes.
Inconsistent Nitish Rana and Shubman Gill
Despite Shubman Gill piling on 440 runs in 14 matches and securing spots in India's ODI and Test squads for the Australia tour, his performance left the franchise desiring for more.
His low strike rate (117.96) and poor bottom hand, which affected his offside strokeplay, hurt the Knights during the powerplay.
This also put pressure on his opening partners - especially on Rahul Tripathi (230 runs in 11 innings), who started the tournament with a bang (a 16-ball 36 against Delhi Capitals and an 81 against CSK), but eventually started throwing his wicket away while trying to up the ante.
Even though Gill tried to play the anchor's role, it didn't work out as he could cross the half-century mark only thrice.
Nitish Rana (352 runs in 14 innings), despite having a better strike rate than Gill (138.58) and three fifties (two of them being 80-plus knocks), became part of the team's frequent top-order collapses. His tendency to stay deep inside the batting crease ultimately became his bane as he fell victim to in-swinging and short-pitched deliveries.
Needless batting experiments
KKR went with a completely refurbished team management this time around, with Kiwi veterans Brendon McCullum and Kyle Mills, along with former Aussie allrounder David Hussey forming the think-tank.
McCullum, an aggressive wicketkeeper-batsman and a pro-active captain during his international career, seemed a worthy addition for Knights. But then his 'Horses for Courses' approach backfired big time.
In the competition, the franchise opted for a chop-and-change approach rather frequently. Out-of-form Karthik and Russell were sometimes promoted higher up the order, whereas opener Rahul Tripathi ended up batting at number three and six on more than one occasion.
Narine never got into the groove as an opener, yet the team management decided against bringing in the talented Tom Banton. Another experiment with Nitish Rana produced mixed outcomes as he scored two 80-plus scores and two ducks in that particular role.
Whereas teams like Mumbai Indians, Delhi Capitals made it into the play-offs with settled cores, KKR batters, except skipper Morgan (418 runs in 14 matches), were unsure about their roles by the time their campaign ended.
Narine's flop show
Sunil Narine had a start-stop-start kind of IPL 2020. With the bat, he could manage only 121 runs in 10 matches. The go-to opener for KKR since 2017, he became a headache this time around.
From 'Narine-The Pinch-Hitter', he became 'Narine-The Walking Wicket'. His 'hand-eye coordination' style of batting sans footwork didn't work against short-pitched deliveries aimed at his body.
Russell's injury forced the franchise to use the bowling allrounder at number four and it paid some dividends when the latter scored a counter-attacking 62 runs in Knights' 59-run win in their reverse fixture against Delhi Capitals, but then his bat went silent in the last three games against the KXIP, CSK and RR.
With the ball also, he claimed only five wickets in 10 outings with an economy of 7.94. He was used in the death overs to choke opposition batters, while Varun Chakravarthy (17 wickets in 14 matches at an economy rate of 6.84) played the role of the wrecker-in-chief.
Narine had to change his bowling action after being warned by the match officials and this further hampered his rhythm. All this has now raised the question - should KKR look at life beyond him after an eight-year-long association.