Who Will Open for KKR in This IPL?

A problem of plenty that will give rise to a few selection headaches awaits Kolkata Knight Riders ahead of IPL 2020.

Updated
IPL
7 min read
A problem of plenty that will give rise to a few selection headaches awaits Kolkata Knight Riders ahead of IPL 2020.
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A problem of plenty that will give rise to a few selection headaches awaits Kolkata Knight Riders ahead of Indian Premier League 2020. Armed with one of the strongest batting units, the franchise made some smart selections at the auctions last December but picking the right combination from the wealth of talent available will determine how well the team fares.

Over the years, the Knights have made some blunders as far as their batting line-up was concerned, including persisting with big-hitter Andre Russell at number 7 last year or pushing youngster Shubman Gill to bat in the middle order in 2018. The reluctance to play the West Indian higher led to fissures in the dressing room, with the player himself voicing his displeasure in live Instagram sessions with the KKR camp or in press conferences.

This season, the presence of a wide pool of exuberant youngsters and experienced campaigners further throws up the possibility of a few unhappy players in the dressing room, and how the coaching staff manages the nerves while fielding the best XI will be crucial. With a number of options at the top of the order as well, we look at the various permutations at their disposal and the best possible team that KKR could field.

Batsmen: Dinesh Karthik (captain and wk), Eoin Morgan, Tom Banton, Rinku Singh, Nikhil Naik (wk), Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana, Rahul Tripathi, Siddhesh Lad

All-rounders: Andre Russell, Sunil Narine

Bowlers: Kuldeep Yadav, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi, Pat Cummins, Prashidh Krishna, Chris Green , M Siddharth, Sandeep Warrier, Varun Chakravarthy, Ali Khan, Lockie Ferguson.

With Shubman Gill, Sunil Narine emerges as the strongest contender to take guard upfront.
With Shubman Gill, Sunil Narine emerges as the strongest contender to take guard upfront.
(Photo: BCCI/Facebook/KKR)

Option 1: Open with Gill-Narine

Gill, who has batted in the top three for most parts of his career, found himself in unfamiliar territory in IPL 2018 and the initial half of IPL 2019, when the management played him down the order. The Punjab player could only average 22.94 while batting at positions 6 and 7 in 14 matches with a highest score of just 37. However, Robin Uthappa’s bad form along with the inability of Chris Lynn to fire as expected last season forced the team to push Gill up to open the batting, a role in which he thrived.

In just six games last year, the batter averaged 236 runs at the top with three fifties at an average of 47.20. Gill’s strike rate shot up to 140.48 as well, and there is no doubt that playing against the new ball gets the best of the youngster.

In an interview to ESPNCricinfo, the KKR player opened up about his role in the upcoming IPL, hinting that he might open the innings yet again. “My role will be the same as what I did at the end of last season when I was opening... To guide the whole innings till the end.”

While we assume Gill will open, his batting partner is still undecided, with Sunil Narine, Tom Banton and Rahul Tripathi all capable of smashing the ball in the Powerplay overs.

Narine, however, emerges as the strongest contender to take guard upfront. With a wide array of shots in his arsenal, the spinner is a threat that should be allowed to unleash before the field spreads out. Ever since Gautam Gambhir pushed Narine to open the innings, he has wreaked havoc, striking at 183.91 with three fifties to his name. He comes into the IPL on the back of a successful CPL, where he smashed 144 runs at an average of 28.80 and a strike rate of over 148.

Though Narine might not be the most consistent opener – he averages just 21.12 in the IPL while opening – his aggressive batting has given KKR many flying starts over the years, which has a great effect on the batsmen to follow. Even if Narine scores a 10-ball 20, he would have done his job, and with players like Gill and Nitish Rana around to anchor the innings, allowing the West Indian the liberty to plunder the bowling might not be the worst move.

If he does open the innings, it will either be Rana or Banton at the number three position. The former has fast emerged as KKR’s most bankable player while the latter, despite being just 21 years of age, has been touted as the next big thing in white-ball cricket. However, Banton has just played four T20 games while not opening with not very successful results.

Verdict: The best opening combination available, as Narine’s dual role allows the team to field an extra bowler.

Possible line-up if Gill-Narine open - Shubman Gill, Sunil Narine, Tom Banton/Eoin Morgan, Nitish Rana, Andre Russell, Dinesh Karthik, Rinku Singh/Siddhesh Lad, Pat Cummins, Kuldeep Yadav, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Prasidh Krishna/Shivam Mavi

Shubman Gill and Tom Banton could be a possible opening combination for KKR in IPL 2020.
Shubman Gill and Tom Banton could be a possible opening combination for KKR in IPL 2020.
(Photo: BCCI/Facebook/England Cricket)

Option 2: Open with Gill-Banton

A big worry for KKR fans will be the injury to Narine, that forced the mystery spinner to miss the CPL finals. In case he is not fit, the management will further have to scratch their heads for the best team that can take on the rivals due to the many tempting options available. The go-to option will be opening with Banton, who strikes at 156.89 in domestic T20 games, and can essay a similar role as Narine’s.

With Banton at the top, Rana at three, and Morgan, Russell and Karthik to follow, the line-up will pack a punch and will be unstoppable on their day.

However, it is unlikely that KKR will persist with the Englishman if Narine is fit. Playing Narine, Banton, Morgan and Russell will leave no foreigner’s slot open for a fast bowler, which can work against the team that has no capped Indian seamer in their ranks. Plus, Narine the batter will be wasted if he plays anywhere other than at the top.

If Narine is injured, in all probability, there will be a toss up between Banton and Morgan, as the bowling will be severely dependent on the experienced duo of Pat Cummins and Kuldeep Yadav in his absence. KKR does not have the strongest bowling line-up, with plenty of young faces, and if Narine is unavailable, the team might want to field Lockie Ferguson or Chris Green as well along with Cummins. Banton could have been presented with a chance if Pravin Tambe, an experienced spinner, was in the side, but his suspension means that the team has to stack up heavily in the bowling department.

This will lead to a direct toss-up between Morgan and Banton in the XI, but we expect the England skipper to surge ahead considering his experience and the depth that he adds to the line-up.

Verdict: Though Banton is an exciting talent, it is tough to see him play regularly considering the options KKR have. He has a shot if Narine is injured, but playing him and Morgan together seems impossible as the bowling will be deleted if Narine does not play. With Russell not bowling in the CPL due to a knee injury, KKR will have just four bowling options unless Rana can contribute, and will have to drop a batsman to field a fifth bowler. A toss-up between Morgan and Banton will see the former surging ahead.

Possible line-up if Gill-Banton open – Shubman Gill, Tom Banton, Nitish Rana, Eoin Morgan, Andre Russell, Dinesh Karthik, Shivam Mavi/Prasidh Krishna, Pat Cummins, Kuldeep Yadav, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Varun Chakravarthy

Rahul Tripathi (R) is another fiery batsman who can get going on his day and prove to be the perfect partner alongside Shubman Gill.
Rahul Tripathi (R) is another fiery batsman who can get going on his day and prove to be the perfect partner alongside Shubman Gill.
(Photo: BCCI/Facebook/KKR)

Option 3: Open with Gill-Tripathi

KKR seem to have all bases covered as far as their batting is concerned, which includes having an Indian opener alongside Gill to accommodate an extra bowler in the side. Rahul Tripathi is another fiery batsman who can get going on his day and prove to be the perfect partner alongside Gill. The player strikes at 137.32 in the IPL and had a stellar Syed Mushtaq Ali for Maharashtra last year, scoring 208 runs in nine innings at a strike rate of nearing 142. Tripathi has opened 19 times in the IPL, with four fifties, including a high score of 93, at an average of 31.72, and can fit into KKR’s opening plans to lend flexibility in case of an injury to Narine.

Playing Tripathi will allow the team to field two overseas batsmen in Morgan and Russell, along with two overseas bowlers, which will cover up for the inexperience that will be caused due to Narine’s absence.

Verdict: The second-best opening option available to the franchise for IPL 2020. Playing Tripathi will mean that KKR field a team with a strong Indian core - with Rana, Gill, Siddhesh Lad/Rinku Singh and Tripathi along with Karthik. The presence of Russell and Morgan will lend stability and experience, which will further allow the young Indian group to play fearlessly. The bowling too can be strengthened by the inclusion of either Ali Khan, Green or Ferguson along with Cummins, which will lend a balance to the set-up.

However, the team will once again be a bowler short if Russell does not bowl, which means that Rana will have to raise his hand up and contribute with his off-spinners.

Banton, despite all his eccentricities in the format of late, thus, will have to do with an IPL that presents him with limited opportunities.

Possible line-up if Gill-Tripathi open - Shubman Gill, Rahul Tripathi, Nitish Rana, Eoin Morgan, Andre Russell, Dinesh Karthik, Rinku Singh/Siddhesh Lad, Pat Cummins, Kuldeep Yadav, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Ali Khan/Lockie Ferguson/Chris Green

(Sarah Waris is a postgraduate in English Literature has taken on the tough task of limiting the mystic world of cricket to a few hundred words.)

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