Kolkata Knight Riders have taken leave for a year. This year they fielded a much improved side, having made the top four for the first time in IPL. Things did not end well for them though. That last over by Balaji knocked them off the qualifier spot that looked so certain, and the Mumbai Indians’ Blizzard in the eliminator robbed their chance to play in the Champions’ League.
The slump, however laced with bad luck, resulted inevitably from some dodgy decisions from the KKR camp. Terrific performances from the likes of Kallis, Gambhir, Tiwary, Abdulla and Shakib ensured that it did not show until the fag end of the tournament. Here’s trying to identify some of the problems KKR created for themselves:
The wicketkeeper-batsman-opener experiment – Jacques Kallis was supposed to hold the innings together, a role he perfected as the Royal Challengers Bangalore opener. But while Manish Pandey or Robin Uthappa ensured that RCB had gone off to a blazing start, KKR resorted to the old formula of sending the wicketkeeper as the suicide bomber. As it turned out, KKR had amassed the largest variety of these kinds. They started with Manvinder Bisla, whose slipshod keeping skills eventually outdid his batting.
Brad Haddin, arguably the best of the lot, left with a finger injury after just one outing. Eoin Morgan, pushed to open after a flurry of middle-order wobbles, came into his own and helped KKR to most of their best starts of the tournament. Once he left for the Sri Lanka Test series, Shreevats Goswami was played as Kallis’ partner. All he did was to encourage his detractors.
Mark Boucher batting down the order was a shadow of its past. At least his keeping was inspiring. In the 20-over format, good starts are the foundation of a big score. KKR continued losing the first wicket cheaply to add pressure on Gambhir at No. 3. All the while, Wriddhiman Saha, who served three years with KKR, warmed the bench in the Chennai dug-out, and won a Man of the Match in the three matches he got to bat.
Pathan implosion – Yusuf Pathan, the second most expensive player after Gambhir, accounted for more than one-fifth of the team’s collective worth. Logically, he should have repaid the KKR owners with one-fifth of the runs scored and one-fifth of the wickets taken. He did take 13 wickets, at a healthy strike rate of 6.10, out of 76 taken by the team and scored 283 out of 1805 runs scored, excluding extras, almost fulfilling the criterion however irrational it might sound.
However, in the end, his aggregate amounted to one-sixth, and that marginal sink in Pathan’s form became crucial as the team had banked too much on his Atlas shoulders. He couldn’t quite provide the impetus at some key moments as he used to do for the Rajasthan Royals. What was Shane Warne’s loss came to be Gautam Gambhir’s loss too. Even Manoj Tiwary (14) hit more sixes than Pathan (13).
Holding back ten Doeschate – Ryan ten Doeschate, the Dutchman the KKR bought for USD 1,50,000 (Rs. 67, 50,000), appeared a prudent investment after his twin centuries at the World Cup. But the management thought otherwise. They kept the man with the highest batting average in ODI history (67.00) out of the squad, relying on Eoin Morgan and Mark Boucher instead. He ended up playing six matches, batted too low down the order to make a lasting impact, and still ended up topping the batting averages (53.50) and strike rates (146.57) of all KKR players with 100 plus runs, claiming the highest score for a No. 6 batsman (70*) in IPL 4. And Gambhir had more faith on Balaji and Rajat Bhatia’s medium pace than the man’s whose ODI bowling average is 24.12, better than any Indian bowler. He might have made his career against the minnows, but what do Bhatia and Abdulla and Tiwary have to boast of then?
Pace woes – Balaji’s infamous last over is now IPL lore. He bowled well in patches but let out too many loose ones in the form of wayward slow bouncers and low full tosses. Rajat Bhatia’s slow legcutters were effective on sticky and dry pitches. He was the most economical of the pacemen indeed. But he failed to adjust to flat pitches. The same cutters did not seam around and got hit.
Brett Lee couldn’t live up to his name. This IPL showed that he has lost the toe-crushing yorker that, prior to the rise of Malinga, was the best in business. He is clearly a spent force. But as is the wont of giants, they cannot be written off at any active stage. Jaydev Unadkat surprised with some well-directed bouncers, but as Fanie de Villiers had pointed out during his debut Test against South Africa, he has lots to learn. Luckily he is under the wings of the greatest left-arm pacer of modern cricket.
James Pattinson and Pradeep Sangwan, as expected, didn’t get a game. KKR bought too many not-playable bowlers into the squad of 20. Prepare to see some of them being swapped for batsmen in IPL 5.
Delhi belly – There were just too much of Delhi presence in the KKR squad. Both Gambhir, the captain, and Vijay Dahiya, the assistant coach, being from Delhi, had a better assessment of the Delhi players and brought a sizeable chunk of the last three years’ Delhi Daredevils dressing room to Kolkata. Local boys could have fed the think tank with more practical knowledge of the conditions at the Eden Gardens where they regularly play and practice. While Rajat Bhatia made the most of tailor-made bowling conditions, his batting at the critical moments was woebegone. Laxmi Ratan Shukla, the only batsman in the team who didn’t get to show his wares at all, could have been a more useful late order contributor, or could have been drafted to try the opening explosion KKR awaited throughout the tournament. Persisting with the likes of Bhatia or Morgan or Goswami even when they were not delivering was beyond cricketing logic.
(Souvik Naha is currently doing research on the history of Indian cricket at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)