After two ordinary seasons in 2019 and 2020, Kolkata Knight Riders will be keen to turn things around in 2021. The performance, or lack of thereof, of Andre Russell and Sunil Narine, has been a concern. Russell and Narine have shared four MVP Awards between them. Now, following a string of injuries, they have been reduced to the shadows of their former selves.
Onus on new captain
Kolkata Knight Riders ended the last season at fifth position with seven wins and as many as defeats. They lost on a Playoffs spot on net run rate, an outcome of several massive defeats. Halfway through the series, they replaced Dinesh Karthik as captain with Eoin Morgan.
Morgan was the second-highest run-scorer for KKR in 2020. His tally included 24 sixes. He will play key roles as both batsman and captain.
KKR did not go into the 2020 auctions with a substantial purse. Despite that, they made some handy purchases. Shakib Al Hasan, who was an integral part of Kolkata during their title-winning sessions of 2012 and 2014, is back in the KKR squad. Other buys include Harbhajan Singh, Ben Cutting, and youngsters like Venkatesh Iyer and Vaibhav Arora.
Shakib’s comeback, Harbhajan’s mentorship, and an important IPL for Gill
Shakib will provide competition to Narine for the spin-bowling all-rounder’s spot. Cutting, Player of the Match in the 2016 IPL final, can be a like-to-like replacement option for Andre Russell with his explosive hitting and ability to bowl seam.
Harbhajan may not be included in the XI every time, but he can mentor the two young spinners, Kuldeep Yadav and Varun Chakravarthy. Spin used to be the biggest weapon of the Knight Riders, but Kuldeep’s recent form has been a concern. Chakravarthy, their biggest find last season, claimed 17 wickets. However, it will be interesting to see if he can deliver again: the teams will be prepared better this time.
Prasidh Krishna, who got his India ODI cap last month, will probably be KKR’s second-preferred pacer, after Pat Cummins. They also have Lockie Ferguson, Shivam Mavi, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, and Arora as backup options.
KKR would hope for Shubman Gill to assume more responsibility this time. Gill has been a regular for India in Test cricket, but there is a question mark over his ability to adapt to the T20 format. Last season, his 440 runs came at a strike rate below 120. There is no doubt over his talent. He simply needs to accelerate.
More will also be expected of other senior batsmen, like Karthik, Nitish Rana, and Rahul Tripathi.
Like last year, Kolkata Knight Riders will miss the home support at the Eden Gardens and have to plan according to the venues they have been allocated. They are going to play most of their matches in Ahmedabad and Bengaluru, two of the high-scoring venues, and will hope their big hitters led by Russell can take them to large totals every time.
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