IPL 2022: Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), a constructionally flawed unit

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Kolkata Knight Riders, a team highly driven by analytics and some brilliant tactics, turned their fortune to end up as the runners of the previous edition of the IPL. A team that came well together was now dismantled and was asked to rebuild. They were one of the few teams to retain 4 players, which also took a hit on their purse. Retentions hugely driven by a mix of experience and high recency bias, KKR shelled out 46 percent of their purse for just 4 players. Retaining Andre Russell, Varun Chakravarthy , Venkatesh Iyer, and Sunil Narine, they were able to form a solid base to construct a team with.

IPL 2022: KKR Retentions

There are very few in the world of T20 cricket who can do what Russell does, and he was no-brainer retention at 12 crores. With an ability to snatch the game from the opponent’s hand at the cusp of defeats, be it by finishing with the bat or striking with the ball at the death, Russell is an asset to have on your side. The only thing that KKR would dread is the sight of Russell limping off the field in the middle of the game. If Russell can stay fully fit for a season, we are in for some madness.

Their next retention was Varun Chakravarthy, one of the best defensive bowlers in Indian cricket at the moment. Looking at the price at which premier Indian spinners went for at the auction, an 8 crore retention looks slightly overpriced, given that Varun contributes in just one department. Varun is yet to be tested in conditions that are not spin-friendly and with Eden Gardens, a batting paradise being home to the Knight Riders, Varun will have a new challenge. However, there is no questioning his skill.

Turning the ball both the ways and making it very hard to pick his deliveries of the hand, KKR can trust Varun to bowl those economical spells in the middle overs which will be crucial in high scoring games at their home. With the talks that the entire edition of IPL 2022 is going to be hosted in Maharashtra, Varun should be lethal as the wickets will keep deteriorating as the season progresses. Again like Russell, the concern with Varun is that he is fragile and KKR would want him to last a whole season at the very best of his fitness.

Another expected retention was Sunil Narine, who has been a great servant of the franchise. Narine has been bowling defensive spells for ages, and for someone who can be destructive with the bat against spin and medium pace, at 6 crores, Narine becomes an excellent pick.

Varun and Narine have worked like a dream combo for the Knight Riders and were instrumental in KKR reaching the final in the previous edition. In the last two editions of the IPL, Narine and Varun have bowled at an economy of 6.06 and 6.52 respectively in the middle overs. Only Rashid Khan has a better economy rate than Narine with the same filter for a spinner. Varun has also been picking wickets at regular intervals making him the fourth-highest wicket-taker with 26 wickets at an average of 20.58 for the same filter. Even before stepping into the auction, KKR had a two-fifth of their twenty overs covered with solid spin bowling options.

Another retention KKR made was that of Venkatesh Iyer for 8 crores. Venkatesh stole the show in the 2021 edition of the IPL. The craze for a fast-bowling all-rounder and the injury of Hardik Pandya saw him fast-tracked into the national side as well. While Venkatesh was only 10 matches old, it came as a surprise that he was retained ahead of a lot of other potential players.

But such is the craze for a left-hander who can bat in the top 6 and also bowl seam. Might not be the one pleasing to the eye with a convincing technique, but when you score runs as Venkatesh Iyer did at an average of over 40, there is nothing that can stop you from sealing your spot. A great option to have at the top to counter medium-pace. An even better player of spin averaging 44.67 striking at 135.35. A handy option with the ball who can chip when the other bowlers have a bad day. Venkatesh would have fetched even more at the auction and KKR made worthy retention.

KKR going into the auction needed to assemble a fresh fast bowling unit and build a batting unit around Russell and Venkatesh Iyer.

We will look at what would have been the possible thinking behind the picks that KKR made during the auction, the strengths, and the potential drawbacks.

IPL 2022: How has the KKR batting unit shaped?

“Who’s going to lead KKR?” was pretty much the talk of the town since they hadn’t retained Eoin Morgan after a disastrous season with the bat. Well, things became evident when KKR went to an extent where they shelled out 12.25 crores for Shreyas Iyer. Shreyas is a solid anchor option with his own shortcomings. A player who can be trusted to take you through chases in the mid 150s range and bail you out of situations where there have been quick wickets, but his attacking gear is pretty poor. His strike rate of 120.22 and 115.95 against pace and spin respectively since 2019 will be something the management has to worry about as they look at him as a long-term option and he will be playing at a position that is pivotal. Once they have fixed Iyer at 3, they had to look at options who can bat around Iyer and maximize the returns by complementing his weakness of high pace at hard length.

KKR decided to re-gain the services of Nitish Rana for 8 crores who has done pretty well for the franchise in the past. Rana is one of the very few left-handers who takes the off-spinners (an unfavorable matchup) to the cleaners . Rana’s middle overs numbers since 2019 read – average over 32 and strike rate over 140, which is convincing. This could have well been the reason to pick him and rightly slot him at number 4. But the catch here is, the number of hit -the-deck bowlers in T20 cricket has been increasing and teams have started realizing the value of middle overs enforcers who can bowl at a high pace. This would be a matter of concern since both Rana and Iyer are susceptible to high pace at hard length .

Filling 5 out of the top 7, KKR now needed a keeper and Sheldon Jackson was their answer. A domestic keeper who has had two great seasons at the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, Jackson although would be batting out of position, KKR have no other choice but to fit him at 5.

KKR needed another player at the top who can handle pace. At the back end of the auction, they made two solid picks in Alex Hales and Sam Billings and either of the one would feature in the XI. Hales would be a perfect option to open considering his two stellar seasons at the Pakistan Super League in sub-continent wickets and his ability to handle pace.

Another possibility is Sam Billings slotting in at 5 and Ajinkya Rahane opening the batting. But then Rahane hasn’t had the best of the returns in the IPL and is no longer looked at as a first-choice T20 batter. Sheldon can also be asked to open the batting if they want to slot in Billings to strengthen the middle order. Narine offers great value as a floater and he can don the spin hitter role. Russell will be their primary finisher and again is susceptible to hard lengths targeted towards his body .

KKR would have fancied having another pace power hitter down the order, but they could manage only this much at the auction table. Cummins extends the depth and can provide the cushion for Russell. Overall, KKR has got a very decent batting unit but is highly one-dimensional that can be blown over by high pace hard-length bowling.

The template would be to have Venkatesh Iyer and Alex Hales at the top and maximize the powerplay. Have Shreyas Iyer bat through and take on traditional spin bowling. Utilize Narine and Rana as power hitters against spin bowling. Have Russell finish games and Pat Cummins as a secondary power hitter down the order.

IPL 2022: Solid Spin Bowling and Awful Death bowling

Their first purchase in the auction was Pat Cummins for 7.25 Crores, a solid buy for that price considering the price for which other pacers were sold at the later stages of the auction. The price tag for Cummins is also a result of his capabilities with the bat down the order. Cummins looked off-color with the new ball last season, but if you can look past that, he can be trusted to exploit anything that the new ball offers. Cummins could have been highly effective had he been paired with another pacer who can be lethal at the death, but KKR opted to spend a huge amount of money for Shivam Mavi, the young inexperienced pacer. Playing for KKR in the last 2 seasons, Cummins has an economy of 10.99 at the death which is not something that you would expect from your frontline death bowler.

Add to that he has been paired with Shivam Mavi, who is just 14 IPL games old across three seasons, KKR would find it hard to keep the big hitters in check at the death. Mavi has been good in both the powerplay and at the death , touching 140 clicks and conceding at a rate of 7.13 and 9.42 runs per over in the powerplay and death overs respectively in the past two seasons. It shows that Mavi has got great potential but it’s a fast-track experiment by KKR who have placed a lot of faith in Mavi. In a mega auction, you would expect better than having an inexperienced pacer be picked to perform a hard role. Looking at the auction dynamics, one would have definitely expected KKR to make much better deals than purchasing Mavi for a whopping 7.25 crores.

Things worsened as the auction progressed. KKR front-loaded and overpaid for a lot of their picks. This didn’t allow them to bid for quality domestic pacers and they had to settle for Umesh Yadav who has not been in the scheme of things at the IPL and has also been highly ineffective in the chances that he has got in the past. Rasikh Salam is another prospect but an untested commodity at the IPL level. Russell can be used as their enforcer and death bowler, but again it is very important that KKR don’t drain Russell considering his fitness issues. They need him more with the bat.

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IPL 2022: Covering the fragile Unit

With KKR fielding a side that has a lot of players with fitness concerns, it is imperative that they have solid backup options. However, KKR have made very mediocre buys. Tim Southee was roped in as a backup for Pat Cummins. Rinku Singh and Baba Indrajith are domestic batting backup options for the number 3 to 5 role. Anukul Roy is a solid spin bowling backup option to have and serves as a cover for Varun. Nabi was bought as a cover for Narine for that down-the-order hitting role and middle over spin option. It is hard to find a like-to-like backup for Russell but the worrying part is KKR didn’t make any efforts. While KKR have tried to have similar replacements for certain players, none of the picks seem to inspire any confidence.

Although KKR have their own limitations as a unit, they have a decent first XI to start with. Their batting unit is one-dimensional but can thrive against units that don’t have pacers who can rush batters. The spin department looks solid but the pace bowling as a unit looks like a let-down, especially their death bowling. KKR at best looks like a side that can eye for a midtable finish and must punch above their weight to secure a playoff spot.

ALSO READ: RCB squad analysis



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