The CricViz preview of Kolkata Knight Riders.
Top six batting (& particularly the middle order)
Kolkata’s likely top six of Sunil Narine, Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana, Dinesh Karthik, Eoin Morgan and Andre Russell is one of the most dynamic, powerful & versatile top orders in IPL history. Indeed, the middle order trio of Karthik, Morgan and Russell is probably the best four to six ever assembled in the league’s history. All six batsmen bring a range of skills and assets that fit well together and create a brilliantly well-rounded unit. Pinch-hitter Narine may not open the batting in every game but he is likely to do so fairly often and he brings destructive power against spin: since the start of 2017 he scores at a strike rate of 217 against spin. Narine is likely to be partnered by Gill, one of India’s most exciting talents. Gill has now played two IPL seasons – scoring 203 and 296 runs from 10 and 13 matches respectively. Having started in the middle order, last year Gill made the move to the top, opening in five of his 13 matches. In those games he scored 229 runs at an average of 57.25 and a strike rate of 140. This season may be his first with a regular and established role in the side. At three is likely to be the kamikaze Nitish Rana who is a very attacking let-hander and provides impetus in the often quieter early middle overs. Then comes the big three. The right-handed Karthik is one of the most underrated players in the IPL: he has added raw power to his 360° game in recent years and can take down pace and spin; then comes the left-handed Morgan who, since September last year, has made massive improvements to his T20 game – starting faster and getting better against spin. Conditions in the UAE are likely to challenge Morgan but it’ll be a surprise if he doesn’t rise to them. Then finally at six—although likely to be used aggressively as a floater—is Russell: the world’s best T20 batsman. Last year Russell compiled one of the great IPL seasons, plundering 510 runs at a strike rate of 205.
Solid and predictable core
Six of KKR’s likely starting elven are elite international players: Narine is the world’s best T20 cricketer, Russell the best T20 batsman, Kuldeep the best left-arm wrist spinner, Cummins one of the world’s best bowlers while Karthik and Morgan are elite middle order batsmen. These six players provide a spine of quality rivalled perhaps only by Mumbai Indians. In addition, Gill and Rana are two superb talents to add to the batting order. Question marks remain about Narine’s fitness—although his form in the CPL was outstanding—Morgan’s suitability to UAE condition, Kuldeep’s form and Rana and Gill’s ability to be consistent at this level but KKR boast enviable quality in their core. The ceiling of this KKR unit is exceptionally high as a result.
Spin bowling (probably!)
Narine—when fit—is arguably the best spin bowler in the world, while Kuldeep’s quality is underlined by his career strike rate of 16.8 which is the 30th best in T20 history among bowlers with at least 100 wickets. These two should form the fulcrum of a supreme spin attack with off spinners Chris Green and Varun Chakravarthy and left-arm spinner Manimaran Siddharth completing the rest of the bowling attack. However, question marks remain around Narine’s fitness—he missed matches in the most recent CPL, and indeed Kuldeep’s form: the 2019 IPL represented the nadir of his short career so far as he returned a season economy rate of 8.99 and was dropped from the side.
In the last few years KKR’s squads have been defined by being notably top-heavy in respect of the fact that they have often spent a large proportion of their purse on a handful of players and in doing so opted for smaller squads with less depth. This is evident in their squad again this season and the strength of that core group of eight players has left them short on depth with the bat and the ball, particularly among the domestic players. Of KKR’s back-up batsmen Rahul Tripathi has had one good season in the IPL while Tom Banton is clearly a highly regarded overseas talent but both head into the season with question marks over their ability at this level while the remaining back-up batsmen Siddesh Lad, Nikhil Naik and Rinku Singh are even more unproven with just 13 IPL matches between them. The back-up overseas quicks are Lockie Ferguson and Ali Khan—both of whom can play the role of enforcer, although Khan is more adept at striking in the Powerplay but both are unlikely to play given Narine and Cummins are set to lock down two of the overseas spots. Indian pace bowling depth is KKR’s clearest area of weakness. In the 2018 auction KKR chose to invest heavily in the young Indian bowlers: Kamlesh Nagarkoti (20 years old), Shivam Mavi (21) and Prasidh Krishna (24) but injuries to the former two have meant Mavi has played just nine matches for KKR while Nagarkoti is yet to make his debut. As such Krishna has shouldered the majority of the burden in the two seasons, playing 18 games but the consequence of this is that KKR’s local pace depth is notably untested. The 29 year-old Sandeep Warrier is another pace bowling option. The lack of Indian pace bowling depth is particularly important given Russell’s troublesome knee has restricted his workload with the ball in recent years.
Narine is a very capable Powerplay bowler but he is primarily a run-saver in the phase. Cummins is a remarkably versatile, three-phase bowler, but is also better suited to the middle and death overs than the first six. Given Kuldeep is almost exclusively a middle over bowler this places a huge amount of responsibility on Russell and the Indian quicks for in the Powerplay. The signing of Ali Khan—a replacement for Harry Gurney—does provide them with a bowler renowned for Powerplay wickets: Khan’s strike rate in the phase of 18.5 is the 17th best in the world since the start of 2016.
Gurney’s injury & death bowling
Although Khan brings a specific skill-set the injury to Gurney is a blow to KKR. Gurney is a superb death bowler whose slower balls and canny variations would have been well-suited to the pitches in the UAE, particularly towards the back-end of the season. Death bowling was a clear and significant weakness for KKR last season: only Rajasthan recorded a higher economy rate in the phase than them and no one recorded a higher strike rate. Cummins’ will be carrying a big burden to remedy this issue.
- Sunil Narine (LH & OB)
- Shubman Gill (RH)
- Nitish Rana (LH)
- Eoin Morgan (LH)
- Dinesh Karthik (RH & WK)
- Andre Russell (RH & RFM)
- Rahul Tripathi (RF & RMF)
- Pat Cummins (RF)
- Kuldeep Yadav (LALS)
- Prasidh Krishna (RMF)
- Shivam Mavi (RMF)
The eleventh player
With Narine and Russell both batting in the top six and capable of bowling KKR essentially have a luxury pick at number seven. They could choose to pick an extra local bowler and go with Cummins at number seven or they could go with an extra local batsman and go with him at number seven. Which option they choose is likely to depend on how much Russell can bowl and how well the two Indian bowlers at ten and eleven, beneath Cummins and Kuldeep are performing. If their bowling is struggling they may be more likely to bolster it and push Cummins to seven. However, given the ‘eleventh player’ is someone who is already not getting in ahead of those picks at ten and eleven you could make the case that they are unlikely to bolster the bowling enough to make their selection worthwhile. KKR may be better served accepting that their bowling is going to struggle and backing an additional batsman at seven, such as Tripathi (and he in fact can offer overs with the ball) and essentially aiming to out-hit the opposition may be KKR’s best tactic. Picking Tripathi at number seven has the added benefit of him being a good fit to slide up to open on the occasions when KKR don’t want to deploy Narine as a pinch-hitter.
The spare two bowlers
With Narine, Russell, Cummins and Kuldeep sure to at least start the season as two of the frontline bowlers. KKR are likely to have two further spots for bowlers with one likely to go to a quick: one of Mavi, Nagarkoti and Warrier (assuming Krishna plays) and another to a spinner: one of Chakravarthy and Siddharth.