KKR (Kolkata Knight Riders) had a mixed bag as far as the IPL 2020 season was concerned. The atmosphere in the dressing room is never pleasant when the captain has to step down halfway through the campaign, and that is exactly what happened with KKR last season.
Dinesh Karthik was replaced by Eoin Morgan as the skipper, a move many felt should have taken place immediately after the Englishman was signed by KKR in the IPL 2020 auction. Although there was more than enough talent in the squad to make the playoffs, inconsistency cost them dearly.
Sunil Narine's ineffectiveness at the top of the order, failure to nail down a fixed batting position for Morgan and Andre Russell's inability to make the starts count were some of the many problems that prevented KKR from making the final four.
Nevertheless, the Kolkata-based franchise have made some intriguing signings at the IPL 2021 auction and certainly look like a team that could go all the way this season.
5 KKR players to watch out for in IPL 2021
Having finished just outside the playoffs spots last time around, KKR will expect the combination of their marquee players as well as youngsters to come together and help them win their third IPL title. Here are five players who can help them achieve this objective.
#5 Shubman Gill
With a decent amount of international experience under his belt between the last IPL season and the upcoming one, Shubman Gill looks ready to leave his mark on the tournament.
Displacing Mayank Agarwal as Team India's first-choice Test opener, Gill has shown that he has the temperament and the ability to score runs in tough circumstances. But one area he would want to work on is his strike-rate in T20 cricket.
While the youngster scored 440 runs last season, they came at a strike-rate of 117.96, something which is not good enough in today's game. While Gill's opening partner at KKR remains to be seen, it is the 21-year-old that will need to take charge as far as making the most of field restrictions is concerned.
Gill undoubtedly has the talent and the potential to win the Orange Cap in the IPL 2021 season. KKR will be expecting their young gun to fire on all cylinders and be as consistent as possible.
#4 Varun Chakravarthy
KKR struggled in the spin department in the first few games of IPL 2020 as both Narine and Kuldeep Yadav proved to be inconsistent. However, the inclusion of Varun Chakravarthy in their playing XI changed things and transformed them into a potent bowling attack.
The Tamil Nadu spinner was so effective that he hardly let KKR feel the pinch of their other spinners missing out. In 13 games, he picked up 17 wickets at an outstanding average of 20.94 and a phenomenal economy of just 6.84.
Chakravarthy was so difficult for batsmen to pick and dominate that he quickly made an impression as the X-factor that the Indian team need in T20 cricket. Subsequently, he was picked in the T20I squads for the series against Australia and later against England.
Unfortunately, the 29-year-old turned out to be unfit on both occasions and still remains uncapped by the Men In Blue. With Team India struggling to find consistent spinners in T20Is, IPL 2021 could be the ticket for Chakravarthy to the T20 World Cup later this year.
He will have to repeat last year's performances as a crucial component for KKR if they are to mount a serious title challenge this season.
#3 Pat Cummins
Apart from his 4-34 in KKR's last IPL 2020 league game against Rajasthan Royals, Pat Cummins was underwhelming with the ball in the previous edition of the tournament. The Aussie speedster was picked up by the franchise in the IPL 2020 auction for a whopping INR 15 Crore.
Evidently, the pressure of the price-tag seemed to get the better of Cummins. However, he was handy with the bat, scoring 156 runs, including a memorable outing against Jasprit Bumrah, in which the Aussie hit four sixes in an over.
As the tournament progressed, Cummins became more consistent with the ball and showed just how valuable he could be to KKR as an all-rounder. If KKR are to win the IPL 2021 trophy, Cummins will need to be at his best from the get-go.
As New South Wales' newly-appointed skipper, the speedster will also add value to KKR's leadership group. With impressive performances in the Marsh Cup, it will be interesting to see how Cummins performs in this IPL season.
#2 Andre Russell
At his best, Andre Russell is arguably the biggest match-winner in the shortest format of the game. However, he had a poor IPL 2020 season and that was one of the main reasons why KKR couldn't go deeper into the tournament.
The big Jamaican could only muster 117 runs in 10 games last season at an appalling average of 13. He couldn't contribute much with the ball either, picking up just six wickets and leaking runs at an economy of 9.72.
Russell had his injury woes to deal with and that certainly didn't help KKR's cause. They will be hoping to witness the carnage caused by the Russell of 2019, where he scored 510 runs at an outstanding strike-rate of 204.81.
If Russell has a season as prolific as he had in 2019, KKR will fancy themselves not only making it to the playoffs but also going all the way in IPL 2021.
#1 Eoin Morgan
Eoin Morgan is arguably the most important player in KKR's armoury this season. One of the most underrated T20 batsmen in the world, the England skipper led The Three Lions to the final of the 2016 T20 World Cup and also won the 2019 World Cup at home.
A huge amount of credit goes to Morgan for the way he has transformed the England white-ball team and has backed a fearless brand of cricket. KKR expect the same from their skipper this season but have a huge headache in front of them, and that is sorting out his batting position.
Considering himself more of a floater, Morgan let other batsmen like Russell and Karthik face more deliveries last season. But many believe No.5 or No.6 is too low a position for a batsman of Morgan's caliber.
The 34-year-old has shown a number of times the kind of damage he is capable of imposing on the opposition if he gets to face a larger number of deliveries. Thus, KKR will need to ensure that their captain needs to bat higher up the order.
If Morgan fires all cylinders, it will be easier for the likes of Shakib Al Hasan, Russell and Karthik to come in towards the back-end of the innings and apply their finishing touches.
It is safe to say that KKR's fate in IPL 2021 will depend a lot on how Morgan performs as a batsman.