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Rotation Policy, Use of Spinners: KKR’s Success Mantra This Season

No other IPL franchise has got the hang of T20 as well as KKR, writes Umaima Saeed.

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Cricket
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When Andre Russell was ruled out of IPL 10, many expected that the Kolkata Knight Riders would be hit by the match-winner’s absence. They were right. Russell’s absence has led to KKR’s run-rate in the death overs being the lowest among all teams. Despite that, they rank number two on the points table.

This is because no other IPL franchise has got the hang of T20 as well as the SRK co-owned outfit. On the back of Gautam Gambhir’s tactful captaincy, they have been countering all their problems with befitting solutions.

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KKR’s Rotation Policy

No other IPL franchise has got the hang of T20 as well as KKR, writes Umaima Saeed.
Sunil Narine has been a revelation at the top of the order for Kolkata. (Photo: BCCI)

When Chris Lynn dislocated his shoulder after two matches, it seemed as if KKR’s best move would be to bring back Robin Uthappa as Gambhir’s second fiddle at the top – one of the most prolific opening pairs in IPL history.

But KKR had different plans. They handed a promotion to Sunil Narine – a pinch hitter in the Big Bash League and Pakistan Super League. To open the innings with a pinch hitter seemed ridiculous at first, even though we saw him open the innings thrice in the BBL. But the move turned out to be a masterstroke with every innings.

From a pinch-hitter, KKR unearthed a power-hitter. When he fires, KKR reap wild benefits. But even when his bat is calm just like him, it doesn’t make much of a difference because he rarely ever eats up dot balls. The idea was to make up for Russell’s deficit, with runs coming from the top.

When KKR traveled to Pune after humiliating RCB at home, Gambhir’s move to rest Coulter-Nile raised eyebrows. Nile, who took three wickets to bowl RCB out for 49, was rested due to ‘workload management’ reasons. Resting your best bowler from the previous match is not something you see often, but these are the kind of gambles Gambhir takes. KKR trumped Pune by 7 wickets, and keeping in mind the length of the IPL and the busy schedule of all teams, the KKR management chose to be wise and gave the tall Australian, who has an injury prone body, time to rest.

Against RCB in the away game, Gambhir dropped himself from the opening slot in spite of scoring heavily this season. This was the icing on the cake which won them the match with 4.5 overs to spare.

Judicial Use of Spinners

No other IPL franchise has got the hang of T20 as well as KKR, writes Umaima Saeed.
Kuldeep Yadav appeals for a wicket during a match in IPL 10. (Photo: BCCI)

Last year the Eden Gardens surface was a sluggish one which aided the spinners and this allowed Gambhir to use them as an attacking option. He was expressive too and never allowed the game to drift since he knew that the spinners would win him matches with their prowess.

However, the change in the nature at the Gardens has seen the seamers jump into prominence this season and KKR have been astute in their acquiring prior to the season. They availed the services of Chris Woakes, Nathan Coulter-Nile, and Trent Boult.

Gambhir, a pro-active skipper has quickly realised that the conditions demand a more cohesive performance from the seamers. Having said this, the spinners have not merely been cheerleaders and they have been thrown into the attack as a shock factor and with the skill sets his spinners have, they have not let him down.

In Sunil Narine they have a tested commodity and he has been brilliantly supported by a young Kuldeep Yadav who too spins the ball both ways. T20 cricket is all about snapping or building momentum and these spinners have time and again been introduced into the attack to derail or somehow slow down the pace of the game which in the longer run has yielded dividends for KKR.

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Giving Players a Longer Rope

No other IPL franchise has got the hang of T20 as well as KKR, writes Umaima Saeed.
File photo of Yusuf Pathan. (Photo: BCCI)

A player can only thrive if he knows he has the backing of the captain and this is where Gambhir has once again been brilliant. He has never jumped the gun and has allowed his players to be comfortable in their roles despite not being entirely consistent. Case in point is Yusuf Pathan and Suryakumar Yadav.

Gambhir has had to put up with some of his so called star players failing regularly. But they continue to be given a longer rope for that one match-winning performance.

I always believe in giving a lot of security to players. When you pick someone, you pick with a lot of trust. We don’t chop and change. If someone does not perform for one year we don’t send him back into the auction or release him. We, I think, are the only franchise that does not release a lot of players. We have allowed people to make mistakes. I think maybe that differentiates us from others.
Gautam Gambhir

Remember how Suryakumar Yadav thrashed Jaidev Unadkat in the penultimate over of KKR vs RPS at Eden this season? 14 runs in 3 balls (4,4,6). That was the kind of cameo Gambhir backs the KKR vice-captain for.

Similarly, KKR’s most criticised batsman Yusuf Pathan’s quick-fire 21 against the Sunrisers, followed by a match-winning half-century against the Delhi Daredevils are the kind of innings for which Gambhir and the KKR management retain him for each year.

KKR believe in bowling out the opposition rather than containing them. More than star players, they rely on utility and horses for courses. The two-time champions field spinner-dominated and pacer-dominated attacks as per the conditions.

And above all, they rotate the players wisely and set up field placement cunningly (remember how the KKR skipper had placed two slips and fielders at short leg and silly point to stop Dhoni’s flamboyancy last season?)

All of this goes to prove that they have mastered the art of T20 to perfection.

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