In the past two seasons of the IPL, the Kolkata Knight Riders have been a one-trick pony. In a performance with no grey area, they have been the best team with the bat and the worst with the ball.
One of the big evolution that T20 has undergone since its inception is the perception around the importance of the bowlers. The theory of batsmen win you matches but bowlers win you championships witnessed a wider adoption.
Numbers back this theory. For in 2012 and 2014, when KKR lifted the trophy they were the best bowling team in the tournament by a considerable margin. In 2012, the economy-rate of KKR bowlers resulted in a difference of 10 runs in an innings on an average between them and the next best bowling team. This difference was 6 runs in 2014.
Having realized the weakness, they had no second thoughts while engaging in a bidding war to nap Pat Cummins for a record 15.5 crores ahead of this season.
Best with the Bat
With a batting run-rate of 8.99 since 2018, KKR are way above other teams. Such has been their dominance with the bat that their run-rate in each of the three phases of the innings is higher than other teams.
Contributing to this are the two most effective T20 batsmen in their respective roles. Andre Russell and Sunil Narine are the top of the strike-rate ladder from all batsmen that have 30 or more runs in IPL since 2018. What helps, is that Narine’s carnage is in the powerplay whereas Russell is the marauder of the death overs. Thus, these provide the thrust at two different phases of the innings propelling their team ahead.
With these two around, it is not surprising that they have the highest percentage of boundary balls: 20.7%. They do have the lowest ball per wicket record of 24 in the powerplay but that is due to Narine owning a license to carefree batting.
Assisting these two are Dinesh Karthik, Shubman Gill and Nitish Rana. Karthik himself is an attacking lower middle-order batsman who has a strike-rate of 187.2 in death overs since 2018. Gill and Rana too have a useful strike-rate of around 140 in the middle-overs.
Being proactive KKR got rid of their two weak links with the bat ahead of this season. Robin Uthappa had a torrid 2019 season that he ended with an overall strike-rate of 115.1. Chris Lynn’s weakness against spin (strike-rate of 111.7 since 2018) was apparent and helped the opposition to unleash a spin barrage when he was batting.
Areas of Improvement
Worst with the Ball
In the two IPL seasons that KKR won, their weapon of destruction was Narine. In the three seasons from 2012 to 2014, Narine was the leading wicket-taker in IPL with 67 wickets which came at 16.8 balls per wicket. However, struggling to legitimize his action, Narine’s balls per wicket record in IPL has fallen to 26.1 since.
With their senior-most bowler struggling to pick wickets and an inexperienced bowling attack outside him, KKR’s bowling performance has been a nightmare since 2018. With an economy of 9.06 since 2018, they have been the most expensive bowling unit. Moreover, a balls per wicket record 22.34 is worse than other teams.
Wickets in the Powerplay
Since 2018, in the powerplay, their economy rate of 8.66 is a little better than two other teams. Narine’s exceptional economy of 6.7 in this phase hides the underperformance of other bowlers. Moreover, their record of 37.24 balls per wicket in this phase is higher than around 9 balls per wicket from the next best team.
Also, not able to pick one wicket in the powerplay on an average, sets them back in the middle-overs where their economy of 8.53 in higher than other teams. In the death overs, their economy of 10.79 is better than only RCB who implode in the final five overs with an economy of 11.55.
The lack of wickets from their two strike bowlers in Narine and Kuldeep Yadav hurt KKR on the bowling front. Kuldeep suffered a confidence breakdown in 2019 season and ended with four wickets in nine matches. Though Narine and Kuldeep have an economy rate of around 8 since 2018, but being the two main spinners in the side, they should be breaking partnerships.
KKR did not have any Indian pacer of the international stature post the auction of 2018. Making matters worse, injuries plagued their rookie pace attack. Selected after making headlines in the 2018 Under-19 World Cup, Kamlesh Nagarkoti missed both the seasons, while Shivam Mavi could not take part in the 2019 season.
Playing nine matches in 2018 Mavi bowled with an economy of 9.6. Prasidh Krishna, another young India pacer, has been a regular for KKR since 2018 but he too has a high economy of 9.3. Even the foreign recruits like Lockie Ferguson ended up with an economy rate in double digits in 2019.
Since 2018, with an indifferent bowling attack, the onus of leading the team to a victory has been on the batsmen. With the bat, there is a difference of 1.2 runs per over between the games that they have won and lost. This difference is the most among all teams. Whereas, with the ball this difference in only 0.5 runs per over, among the lowest for all teams.
Prospects for 2020
Eoin Morgan is an excellent addition in the side. His involvement with KKR can prove to be akin to MS Dhoni’s for CSK. An embodiment of immense calmness, he can be the hinge around whom KKR’s batting can revolve. Now that the IPL is in UAE, Morgan’s strength against spin will be an added advantage.
With his latest action, where he keeps the ball hidden until the release, Narine seemed to move back to the days of yore in this year’s CPL. KKR will hope that he can carry the same performance in IPL this year. Pat Cummins is another good addition to the side, not just to bowl but also mentor their young pace attack. Being injury prone himself in his initial days, he can be the perfect guide for KKR’s fast bowling crop.
However, his addition does not fix the problem. Russell has been a decent sixth bowling option for his teams but his recent injury bouts will be a factor on his workload. KKR need him with the bat more than with the ball. Even if Narine and Kuldeep bring in their A-game, it will still leave eight overs for the inexperienced pacers or spinners. Eight overs that the opposition can plan to target from ball one. But, this also provides an opportunity for the young bowlers to make a name for themselves.
Knocking on the door for a place in the Indian side, this season will put Gill in the centre-stage yet again. Another season filled with his array of eye-pleasing shots can result in him breaking that door down and walk right in. RR’s loss is KKR’s gain as Rahul Tripathi is a proven opener in the IPL. Tom Banton is another young talent in the side though he might not start in the XI right away.
With Morgan and Cummins, KKR will give a tough competition to RR in terms of having the best foreign quartet. It is no doubt that they have the best batting line-up and teams will find it tough to defend against them. However, the spin-friendly tracks in UAE can pose a challenge to their attacking batsmen. Having said that, they will hope this season turns out to be like a usual season for Mumbai Indians where they go on to lift the title despite not being the best bowling side.