Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) are two-time Indian Premier League (IPL) champions and despite failure to reach the playoffs stage last year, they are a force to reckon with in Season 9.
Gautam Gambhir has been at the helm of the Shah Rukh Khan-owned team since 2011 and led the team to titles in 2012 and 2014. The team has graduated Jacques Kallis from a player to a coach, while former Australian batsman Simon Katich is the batting coach and Pakistani legend Wasim Akram mentor cum bowling coach.
KKR traditionally stick to their original squad and buy only a few players at the IPL auctions and earlier this year there strategy was no different as they retained as many as 15 players (nine Indians and six foreigners), the second highest after Mumbai Indians, and purchased only 6. In the past, the strategy of retaining players paid rich dividends to KKR, as it allowed the team to gel together and go on to win the title twice.
As defending champions last year, they came out all guns blazing in home matches with five wins in seven games, but misfired miserably in away games with only two wins in seven encounters. KKR obviously get rousing support at their home ground – the Eden Gardens, which lifts the team, but they need to improve on their away performance in order to see their name on the playoffs’ roster this season.
The squad is a blend of experience and youth. While Gambhir, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Yusuf Pathan, Umesh Yadav and Piyush Chawla are locals who have sufficient experience of playing in the IPL and otherwise, KKR have a talented overseas lot in South African pacer Morne Morkel, West Indian allrounders Andre Russell and Jason Holder, Bangladeshi ace Shakib Al Hasan and New Zealand’s middle-order batsman Colin Munro.
Apart from local stalwarts, allrounder Manan Sharma, batsman Suryakumar Yadav and medium pacers Jaydev Unadkat and Ankit Rajpoot have the ability to contribute significantly to the team’s fortune.
West Indies mystery bowler Sunil Narine and Australian veteran Brad Hodge are the match-winning spinners in the KKR ranks.
The team’s strengths are its strong top-order, presence of many allrounders and quality medium-fast bowlers.
Gambhir and Uthappa are one of the most reliable opening pairs in the IPL. They are also the fifth and sixth highest run-getters respectively in the tournament. Last year, Uthappa was their best batsman with 364 runs in 13 matches at an average of 30.33 and strike rate of 131.40. Gambhir followed him with 327 runs in 13 matches at an average of 25.15 and strike rate of 117.62. The duo’s success has been vital in the team’s revival.
They have an array of quality allrounders as the likes of Russell, Chawla, Shakib, Holder and Yusuf have proved their worth with the bat and ball time and again. Russell, a member of the West Indies’ ICC World Twenty20-winning squad, was their most successful recruit last season with 14 wickets in 13 matches, the highest for the team. He was equally effective with the bat as he aggregated 326 runs in 11 innings at an average of 36.22 and a brilliant strike rate of 192.89.
Yusuf had a roller-coaster ride throughout last season but he rounded off the tournament with 312 runs in 12 innings at a brilliant average of 44.57 and strike rate of 135.06. Chawla had an ordinary run with the bat but he took 11 wickets in 13 matches with 4 for 32 as his best.
Shakib is another good option up Gambhir’s sleeve but KKR gave just four games to him last season and his performance was below par. When a team can play a maximum of four overseas players in their eleven, how many matches will the Bangladeshi ace get is to be seen.
Among the pacers, Morkel reposed faith in the 7 matches he played last season with 10 wickets at an average of 20.60 and strike rate of 16.8. Umesh, on the other hand, took 10 wickets in 12 matches. In the absence of experienced internationals, talented medium pacers Unadkat and Rajpoot can also fill in their shoes.
As far as the spin department is concerned, Narine has a reputation of breaking established stands. He will be hungry after missing the WT20, and with his action being cleared just 48 hours before the start of the season, the mystery spinner will be raring to go alongside leggie Chawla and chinaman Hogg.
They don’t have consistency in the middle order and lower middle-order. Uthappa, Gambhir and Pandey are set for first three positions, but Yusuf has been inconsistent in the last two seasons. They have recruited Munro and Australia’s domestic star Chris Lynn, but it will be pretty difficult for them to find a place in the eleven when Russell, Morkel, Narine and Shakib are almost certainly the first picks for the four spots.
If they can get the desired results in their away fixtures, it could be another season to remember for the KKR fans.
Gautam Gambhir (c), Chris Lynn, Colin Munro, Manish Pandey, Robin Uthappa, Suryakumar Yadav, Sheldon Jackson, Piyush Chawla, Andre Russell, Jason Holder, John Hastings, Yusuf Pathan, Rajagopal Sathish, Shakib Al Hasan, Manan Sharma, Morne Morkel, Jaydev Unadkat, Umesh Yadav, Jaydev Unadkat, Ankit Rajpoot, Sunil Narine, Brad Hodge, Kuldeep Yadav