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KKR's planning at the auction shows results


Dinesh_Karthik_India_Cricket_IPL_Kolkata_Knight_RidersBefore the eleventh edition of the Indian Premier League began, not many thought Kolkata Knight Riders were likely to succeed. Not only were they the smallest team in the tournament, the fact that they had spent their entire purse on just 19 players hardly gave them much breathing space. With a number of inexperienced cricketers in the ranks, the writing was clear on the wall - the seniors in the KKR set-up would have to rise up to the occasion if the team had any hopes of progressing to the further stages of the competition.

Even before the tournament began, the side was hamstrung with injuries to Australian speedster Mitchell Starc and under-19 sensation Kamlesh Nagarkoti. The duo had the responsibility of leading the pace attack and with their unfortunate absence, KKR was pushed deeper into a hole. However, what many had failed to notice was that despite the glaring glitches, the franchise had indeed assembled a dangerous unit with a number of match-winners who could singlehandedly turn games around.

Retained player Sunil Narine had shown glimpses of his all-round skills in 2017, when he had scored with a strike-rate of 172.31 and conceded runs at 6.99 an over. His West Indian compatriot and fellow retained player Andre Russell remained a match-winner in his own way. The likes of Chris Lynn, Robin Uthappa, Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla had been warhorses in the KKR camp for a few years now. Even though the elevation of Dinesh Karthik to captaincy had been met with disdain, he was the safest bet for the top job.

Before the tournament began, Karthik had a win percentage of 72 in the T20s, having led his Tamil Nadu Premier League side Albert TUTI Patriots to the title in 2016. After a brilliant showing in the Nidahas Trophy, where he calmly arrived to strike 29 from just 8 deliveries, the star of Karthik was on the rise and the 2018 IPL gave him another opportunity to push for a permanent spot in the national side.

With a third place finish, KKR not only pitched in with a performance that exceeded all expectations, they broadcast a strong message on the importance of excellent planning and quality buys over mindless spending at the auction.

The positives from the campaign

The biggest positive from the KKR journey this season was the maturity and the intent displayed by their leader Dinesh Karthik. The Chennai player urged the two young stars, Shivam Mavi and Prasidh Krishna, to take on more responsibility and face tough situations with maturity. Time and again, he asked the two pacers to bowl the last over even when the opposing batsmen were on a rampage. Though they were hit on occasion, by the time the tournament ended, the temperament they had exhibited was worthy of applause.

Before the tournament began, KKR’s middle order had been a worry. By giving Nitish Rana and Shubman Gill the freedom to express themselves, the troubles they faced were hardly as severe as imagined. Karthik himself played according to the situation - going after the bowling or just holding one end up to steer his team to safety. His 498 runs at an average of 49.80 showed how crucial he was for his team.

At the top, Narine made up for the dodgy form of both Uthappa and Lynn by scoring 357 runs in 16 games with a strike-rate of 189.89. With a boundary in every 2.98 balls, he was responsible for giving his team explosive starts. He scored 83.47% of his runs in boundaries and had a boundary ball percentage of 33.51, which was instrumental in his team’s success. With the ball, he picked up 17 wickets at an economy rate of 7.66, claiming 1.11 wickets every 4 overs. He truly was deserving of the Most Valuable Player award.

Russell, with 31 sixes this season, scored a six every 5.52 balls. 58.86% of his 316 runs came off sixes. His exploits in the death overs helped KKR cross the line between a par-total and a challenging one. He also picked up 13 wickets, justifying KKR’s decision to retain him despite not being a part of the tournament last year.

What also stood out was the fighting spirit in the team. Their ability to bounce back after being handed two back-to-back defeats against Mumbai Indians said a lot about their spirit. Needing to win all their remaining games to qualify, KKR upped the ante and started a fiery race to the play-offs by scoring 245 runs against Kings XI Punjab.

In their next two games, against Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad, the two sides threatened to race away with the game, courtesy Jos Buttler and Kane Williamson respectively. But the Knight Riders showcased their calm mindset and never-say-die-spirit by pulling things back and going on to win the games, something that head coach Jacques Kallis was an expert at in his heyday.

The areas that let them down

The major worrying factor for KKR this season was the poor form of Robin Uthappa, who was brought back to the team with the Right to Match Card. Though he did manage to score 351 runs, he never looked dangerous and hardly played a match-changing innings. He looked in fine nick for his 30s and the 40s but failed to convert the starts. With Lynn taking his time to recuperate from a shoulder injury and Uthappa’s average form, the responsibility fell on KKR’s young guns Rana and Gill, who did take up the chance to impress in their outings.

It is no secret that the injury to Starc hurt the team. Mitchell Johnson, Tom Curran and Vinay Kumar all proved to be expensive, so KKR did not have a reliable leader who could guide the young pace attack. West Indian Javon Searles was brought into the side as well, but after having failed to impress, he was dropped and the result was that KKR played the second Qualifier against SRH with three overseas players, a rarity.

The importance of a well-thought out auction

Before the tournament began, it was Delhi Daredevils and Punjab who were touted as the strongest teams. While the latter did show glimpses of power, they floundered in the end, with people calling their buys mindless. KKR, on the other hand, had gone into the auctions with a definite plan in place, focusing on current form, impact and aiming to build a core group of players for the future.

Cricketers like Russell, Narine, Uthappa, Kuldeep and Lynn have been with the team for a while. In backing Rana, Gill, Prasidh and Mavi, KKR look to form a team with young athletes who can be of service once the veterans gradually bow out.

They do need to bring on board a suitable replacement for Starc, who is unlikely to play the IPL next year with the World Cup so close to the league. However, the KKR management, in choosing players wisely, proved that when a solid group of players are in place, success is more likely to follow.


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