The Kolkata Knight Riders have endured heartbreak in the last two seasons of the IPL. They finished 5th in the points table both times, narrowly missing out on a play-off berth.
KKR last reached the knock-out stage in 2018. That year, they lost in the second qualifier against the eventual runners-up, Sunrisers Hyderabad.
The Knight Riders, incidentally, begin their IPL 2021 campaign on April 11 against the same franchise at Chepauk. The team from Kolkata will play their first three games at Chepauk before shifting base to Wankhede for the next two.They will then fly west to Ahmedabad to play the next four matches before ending their league campaign with five games at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru.
The lack of an explosive opener plagued KKR in 2020. Earlier, the duo of Chris Lynn and Sunil Narine was perhaps the most destructive opening pair in the league. But Lynn's departure left a gaping hole in their top order last season. KKR management must address this issue if they hope to have a more successful campaign this year.
Check out the updated list of most runs scorer in IPL 2021 here!
On that note, let’s look at the best possible combination for KKR in IPL 2021.
Shubman Gill and Suni Narine
Shubman Gill was the leading run-scorer for KKR last season with 440 runs over 14 matches at an average of 33.84. He will surely be one of the openers for KKR this year. But Gill's strike rate of 117.96 was a cause for concern for the team since it is way below par for an opener in the IPL. Kolkata will hope Gill improves on that aspect of his game and churns out match-winning knocks in the top-order.
Choosing the opening partner for Shubman Gill will be a tough challenge for KKR. They have multiple options like Nitish Rana, Rahul Tripathi, Karun Nair, Tim Seifert, and Sunil Narine. Kiwis opener Tim Seifert is unlikely be a regular in playing XI as KKR already have four more valuable overseas players in their ranks. Rahul Tripathi opened a few times last season but was highly inconsistent. Nitish Rana also partnered with Gill at the top in a few matches last year but failed to create an impression.
Shubman Gill usually takes some time to get going, so the management must choose an attacking batter as his partner. Sunil Narine is a perfect fit to that scenario. If the team prefers solidity, then they can opt for the experienced Karun Nair instead. Nair's glory days in the IPL came when he used to open for Rajasthan Royals. But ideally, the Narine-Gill combo should give them better returns this season.
Nitish Rana, Dinesh Karthik, Eoin Morgan(c), Andre Russell, Sheldon Jackson
Nitish Rana has played at the number 3 position for the majority of his KKR career. He had an ordinary campaign last season, scoring 352 runs at an average of 25.14, that included three fifties. These numbers don't seem ideal for a top-order batsman in the IPL. KKR can also try Karun Nair in this role, but they might stick with Rana at the start of the season.
Eoin Morgan, Dinesh Karthik and Andre Russell will form the nucleus of KKR's middle-order. The team's fortunes in the batting department will rely heavily on the performances of the famed trio.
The last position in the batting order is up for grabs. Multiple domestic players like Pawan Negi, Venkatesh Iyer, Sheldon Jackson, and Rinku Singh are vying for that spot. If the team wants a spin-bowling all-rounder, then Pawan Negi fits the bill perfectly.
That being said, if Negi does feature in the playing XI, KKR will have as many as six bowling options available. So it might be more beneficial to go with a more explosive batsman. Sheldon Jackson, who has been with the team for many years now, can occupy that spot. Jackson scored 242 runs at an astonishing average of 80.67 and a dazzling strike rate of 155.12 in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy earlier this year. He showcased his big-hitting skills by hitting 13 sixes across five games.
Pat Cummins, Harbhajan Singh, Prasidh Krishna, and Varun Chakravarthy
Pat Cummins and Varun Chakravarthy are definite starters in the bowling department. They were the team's leading wicket-takers last year and management will expect more of the same from them yet again.
Prasidh Krishna recently made his ODI debut and impressed everyone with his wicket-taking ability. He also managed to consistently bowl around the 140 kmph mark, which is not common in Indian cricket. When the season starts, Krishna might pip others for a spot in the starting XI. If he fails, Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti might get a chance.
Vastly experienced spinner Harbhajan Singh rounds off this playing XI. It will be Harbhajan's debut season for KKR. He skipped the IPL in 2020. Last season prior to that, he was in good form, picking up 16 wickets for the Chennai Super Kings at a decent economy rate of 7.09. He is expected to feature in KKR's spin attack alongside Varun and Narine.
Last season, KKR struggled with replacements when two of their major international stars, Narine and Russell, missed a few games. This time they have quality backups in Shakib-al-Hasan and Ben Cutting, who are renowned T20 players in their own right. Meanwhile, Lockie Ferguson could be the perfect backup option for Pat Cummins.
Shubman Gill, Sunil Narine, Nitish Rana, Dinesh Karthik, Eoin Morgan (c), Andre Russell, Sheldon Jackson, Pat Cummins, Harbhajan Singh, Prasidh Krishna, Varun Chakravarthy