IPL Team Analysis: Foreign Recruits Make KKR a Formidable Unit
Pat Cummins (left) and Eoin Morgan were the two biggest buys for the Kolkata Knight Riders at IPL 2020 auction in Kolkata on Thursday. 
Pat Cummins (left) and Eoin Morgan were the two biggest buys for the Kolkata Knight Riders at IPL 2020 auction in Kolkata on Thursday. (Photo: The Quint)

IPL Team Analysis: Foreign Recruits Make KKR a Formidable Unit

A mini-auction held in Kolkata initiated the 13th edition of the Indian Premier League on Thursday, 19 December. While teams like Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians and Sunrisers Hyderabad had their core side intact and looked to just fill in the voids, sides like Kolkata Knight Riders and Royal Challengers Bangalore made news with big buys.

Dinesh Karthik-led KKR started off proceedings by purchasing England skipper Eoin Morgan, who has played a huge role in the success and the overhaul of the national ODI and the T20I team. They next went on to break the bank as they got Pat Cummins, star Aussie pacer who is in the form of his life, for a mammoth INR 15.5 crore. With it, Cummins also became the most expensive overseas player in the history of the IPL.

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Kolkata Knight Riders came into the auction with 11 vacant spots in the squad and a purse of around Rs 35 crore.
Kolkata Knight Riders came into the auction with 11 vacant spots in the squad and a purse of around Rs 35 crore.
(Photo: BCCI)

However, as the auction progressed, KKR went to the back-burner, and snapped up a few utility Indian domestic stars.

They did end with two cheap and valuable picks in Tom Banton and Chris Green - the former an aggressive top-order wicket-keeper and the former a finger-spinner who has impressed with his lusty blows at the death.

The franchise had been struggling as far as their top-order was concerned, having released Robin Uthappa and Chris Lynn prior to the auctions. They did manage to pick up Rahul Tripathi along with Banton and Morgan to bolster their top, but still lack a like-for-like replacement for Andre Russell, the freak batter who is prone to injuries.

A Solid Batting Attack

The release of Robin Uthappa and Chris Lynn finally means that Shubman Gill, one of the most promising players in domestic cricket currently will walk into the next season of the edition as KKR’s frontline opener. Over the past few seasons, he had been pushed down to 5 or even 6 as the franchise was top-heavy.

However, when he was asked to open the innings against Kings XI Punjab this year, Gill showed what he was capable of as he got a fine fifty. While the Chandigarh player will have the role of a sheet anchor, Sunil Narine, at the other end will have the liberty to go after the bowling and pile on runs in the powerplays, as he has been doing ever since he was considered as an opener.

However, Narine, despite all his heroics, cannot be termed as a regular opener, for he remains far too inconsistent for his team’s liking.

This is where someone like Tripathi or Banton can chip in. The 21-year old wicket-keeper made waves recently as he smashed 80 in just 28 balls in the T10 league. After impressing in the Vitality T20 Blast, Banton was asked to play for England in the T20Is against New Zealand, and though he scored just 56 runs, he batted with a strike rate of 164.70 to give his side handy starts.

Tripathi, who made waves in his stint with Rising Pune Supergiant can be slotted at number three, with Nitish Rana, Karthik and Morgan handling the middle order for the side.

Tim Banton made waves recently as he smashed 80 in just 28 balls in the T10 league.
Tim Banton made waves recently as he smashed 80 in just 28 balls in the T10 league.
(Photo: Twitter/@cricketcomau)

Rana has scored over 300 runs in his last three seasons of the IPL, which is evidence of his skills, while Karthik and Morgan have plenty of experience and can play the role of floaters to perfection.

The Indian is still regarded as one of the finest T20 batters in India, despite his absence from the T20I team, and though he scored just 253 runs last year, he batted with a strike rate of over 146 and managed a high score of an unbeaten 97. He, however, was in the news for his choices as a leader.

The ploy to push back Andre Russell match-after-match was questioned, and this is where Morgan is likely to chip in with.

By the end of IPL 2019, Karthik was a mentally exhausted captain who seemed lost for new tactics, and the selection of the English cricketer will give a franchise the option of changing captains midway if the situation arises.

However, the biggest weakness still remains the all-rounder’s slot.

Russell’s injury woes and his issues with his knee are well known, and the lack of a seam all-rounder can come to haunt KKR. Green does have an exception strike-rate with the bat, but his selection would mean either Kuldeep Yadav or Narine - the side’s trusted aides with the ball - sit out. On tracks in Mohali, Bengaluru and Wankhede, where the spinners do not get much purchase, it is unlikely that Green would be a first-pick, which would leave the franchise with no options to turn to in case Russell is injured for a few games.

Though Banton and Morgan can score quick-fire runs, having a player like Chris Morris or Colin de Grandhomme, who can strike at over 200 lower down and pick a few with their seam-up deliveries would have further strengthened the side.

A Threatening Bowling Attack, But Can They Fire?

Pat Cummins was picked up by KKR for Rs 15.50 crore to make him the most expensive overseas player in the history of IPL,
Pat Cummins was picked up by KKR for Rs 15.50 crore to make him the most expensive overseas player in the history of IPL,
(Photo: BCCI)

Last season too, KKR went in with a threatening pace attack that comprised of Harry Gurney, Lockie Ferguson and Anrich Nortje along with Shivam Mavi and Prasidh Krishna. After Nortje’s injury and Kamlesh Nagarkoti’s absence, the onus of leading the attack fell of Gurney and Ferguson, and it is fair to say that they let the side down.

The Kiwi played just 5 games and picked 2 wickets, conceding runs at close to 11, while Gurney fared comparatively better, picking up 7 scalps in 8 games with an economy rate of 8.81.

Their ineffectiveness ensured that the rivals had often ran away with the game in the first six overs, which often left the spinners with too much on their hands.

While Krishna and Mavi were the stand-outs, the foreign recruits did disappoint, which is why they went all out for Cummins. The Aussie has had a stellar run in all formats this year, with KKR coach Brendon McCullum terming him as the best bowler of 2019.

If Cummins can stay away from injuries and combine with Ferguson, who looks a different bowler after a successful World Cup, the duo will be a sight to behold on a relaid Eden track that will have plenty of assistance for the faster bowlers.

Pravin Tambe shot into prominence with a hat-trick (3/26) against Kolkata Knight Riders in IPL 2014 in Ahmedabad.
Pravin Tambe shot into prominence with a hat-trick (3/26) against Kolkata Knight Riders in IPL 2014 in Ahmedabad.
(Photo: IANS)

The move to stack up the side with spinners is befuddling, though. KKR bought as many as four spinners in the auctions, with Kuldeep and Narine already in their ranks. True, Kuldeep did not have the best of seasons last year and Narine’s prowess is clearly on the wane. Green can bowl in the powerplays as well - a role often relegated to Narine if the seamers have gone for plenty, but picking a seamer who can bat instead of a slower bowler might have just lend them that extra edge.

The most exciting pick is 48-year old Pravin Tambe, who had bamboozled rivals while playing for Rajasthan Royals.

Tambe along with Varun Chakravarthy, who was much sought after last year only to perform below expectations for Punjab, could just be the surprise performers if given a chance.

2020 IPL Prediction

KKR picked up nine players at the auction and are still left with over Rs 8 crore in their kitty.
KKR picked up nine players at the auction and are still left with over Rs 8 crore in their kitty.
(Photo: Twitter/@KKRiders)

KKR do have a formidable batting attack, but how Karthik employs his resources will be the key. Despite a strong side last year, the franchise was led down by the rigid captaincy of the Tamil Nadu cricketer, and how he takes in the suggestions of Morgan and McCullum will have a huge say in how the team fares. With some big hitters and grinders, the batting is a balanced unit, with youngsters and experienced campaigners alike.

The fast bowling will depend immensely on how Cummins goes, and whether he can stay away from injuries. The KKR management will have high hopes from the seamer, evident from the high prize they dished out for him, and if he can raise his game, the overall bowling attack will appear even more threatening. They do have a few areas of concern, but if the foreign recruits can play as per potential, KKR will be a top-four contender.

(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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