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IPL 2023 Preview: Russell-power to the rescue?

article_imageSERIES PREVIEW
Last updated on 28 Mar 2023 | 12:02 PM
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IPL 2023 Preview: Russell-power to the rescue?

A myopic view while constructing their squad led to a 7th position finish in the last season. Can they salvage anything this season?

After finishing seventh in IPL 2022, KKR were the busiest team in the pre-auction trading window. Bringing the likes of Lockie Ferguson, Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Shardul Thakur into the team. The trades burnt a big hole in their pocket, as they entered the auction with a tiny purse of 7.05 Cr. They had no option but to go for some value buys, with majority of their purchases being base price picks. 

Shreyas Iyer's injury resulted in Nitish Rana being appointed as the stand-in skipper for him. The fans will be hoping for better results with a new captain-coach duo at the helm of affairs.  

Squad Depth

Have they upgraded from last season?

A bit of a yes and more of a no. Buoyed by their IPL ‘21 performance, KKR spent more than 60% of their budget in the mega auction to buy back eight players from their successful run. The move backfired, as they struggled to build a squad with any depth and ended up with Ajinkya Rahane as their only proven pace hitter at the top. 

The lack of domestic wicket-keeping options had a domino effect on their opening pair; they could no longer afford to have an overseas opener because that would force them to play Baba Indrajith or Sheldon Jackson. Both are excellent talents, but unproven at this level. As if this wasn’t bad enough, when Alex Hales backed out due to bubble fatigue, they signed up the IPL wanderer, Aaron Finch, as his replacement. 

Anything that had to do with pace, and KKR found themselves wanting. To set some more context, KKR had the poorest run rate vs pace despite Pat Cummins and Andre Russell scoring 140 runs in 61 balls between them. 

Recruiting Litton Das and Rahmanullah Gurbaz helps address both these issues to some extent. Having gone for Narayan Jagadeesan as their only domestic wicket-keeping option, expect at least one of Litton or Gurbaz to be handed an IPL debut this season. 

Rahmanullah Gurbaz vs Pace in T20s: R – 1887, SR – 152.5, Avg. – 26.5, Boundaries/Balls: 23.1%

Litton Das vs Pace in T20s: R – 2204, SR – 132.3, Avg. – 26.2, Boundaries/Balls: 14.5%

What needs to change for them?

On paper, their bowling group consists of a unidimensional pace attack and a dominant spin attack. Despite this, their pacers exceeded all expectations. While their pacers were expensive, they took wickets at regular intervals. Umesh, Russell, and Southee accounted for 80% of all wickets taken by their pacers. The addition of Lockie Ferguson and a return to the pace-friendly Eden Gardens could help their pacers’ cause further. 

Their batters' weakness against hard lengths and pace will be difficult to contend with at a venue like Eden Gardens. Gurbaz/Litton could help them to some extent, but the likes of Nitish Rana, Venkatesh Iyer, and Rinku Singh will need to up their game against quality pace.

What will win them the title?

Batters were content playing the spin duo out and went after the pacers. A home/away season this time around would negate the requirement of two spinners at Eden Gardens, especially when both of them don’t contribute much with the bat. Either way, an over-reliance on the pace trio is a high-risk strategy that might not work this time. They would want Sunil Narine at his wicket-taking best to help them stake a claim for the title.

It is no secret that the KKR batters struggled to get going against pace. They tried to compensate for this lack of scoring by going hard at the spinners. This approach yielded mixed returns for them. You need to look no further than Shreyas Iyer, and his record against leg-spinners. In the six innings he faced leg-spinners, he got out to them four times, averaging a paltry 7.25. A venue like Eden Gardens would go a long way in helping them attack spinners.

Their lack of quality backups could lead to them using their Impact Player sub-optimally. You can read more about it here

MVP - Sunil Narine

Home and Away

In the last few years, Eden Gardens has become a batter’s paradise. The consistent bounce and short boundaries don’t help bowlers. As mentioned earlier, this batting lineup wouldn’t particularly enjoy batting on this surface. Don’t be surprised if opponents pack their side with pacers at Kolkata. Their pacers, on the other hand, would want to come up with better performances in the powerplay to leverage these conditions. Barring Umesh’s rampage in the initial few games, there was nothing of note for the KKR bowlers in the first six. 

As per their schedule, five of their away games will come in relatively lower-scoring wickets. This would aid their batters and also give their mystery spin duo a better chance to take wickets.

Potential XI

Player Availability

> Their skipper Shreyas Iyer’s recurring back issue has reportedly ruled him out of the season. KKR have announced Nitish Rana, the southpaw, as the stand-in captain. 

> Litton Das and Shakib Al Hasan have both been named in the Bangladesh squad for the T20I series against Ireland. Should they play all the home games, they would end up missing KKR’s opening encounter against the Punjab Kings. 

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