IPL 2015: Underperformance by Indian batsmen proves costly for KKR
After winning a couple of games in the first leg of the Indian Premier League in 2014, Kolkata Knight Riders had staged a kind of comeback, the story of which could have easily made its entry into the script houses of a Bollywood movie.
On the brink of an early exit from the tournament, Gautam Gambhir’s boys sparked a turnaround which may be seen as a fine display of their never-say-die attitude, winning 9 matches in a row to clinch their second title in two years.
Needing to win at least 5 of their 7 games after the league shifted back to India from the United Arab Emirates, the franchise showed adequate grit and determination as they piled on consecutive victories, marching on towards the finals in Bangalore.
Much was expected, then, of the defending champions in the 2015 edition of the lucrative T20 league. In a tough and competitive league, KKR enjoyed the privilege of being league toppers for a short duration after a winning streak of 3 matches. With 7 wins and a point from a washout against their name, a win in either of their last 2 games, against Mumbai Indians or Rajasthan Royals, would have ensured a smooth passage into the top 4.
Plagued by errors in team selection and unable to cross the line on both occasions, the Knights saw themselves being knocked out of the tournament with 15 points as Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians, Royal Challengers Bangalore and RR eventually finished in the top half of the table.
Here’s a look at how the 47-day league panned out for the team from Kolkata:
Spinning it KKR’s way
The KKR management roped in 44-year-old Australian Brad Hogg during the auctions held in February as a backup option for West Indian off-spinner Sunil Narine, who was under threat for a suspect action.
The mystery spinner, who was given the green signal by the BCCI after passing the bowling tests in Chennai before the tournament started, looked a pale shadow of his former self picking up only 7 wickets in 8 games, going at almost 7.3 runs per over. He was absent for 4 games in the middle of the tournament after the umpires banned him from bowling his stock delivery, the off-spinner, reporting him during the game with Sunrisers Hyderabad.
However, his absence was barely felt as the slower bowlers in the KKR lineup snarled up 34 wickets in the 13 games played, breaking partnerships at regular intervals as well as checking the flow of runs.
Playing 4 specialist spinners at Eden Gardens, a pitch traditionally known to assist the slower bowlers, shows the belief that Gambhir had in the spin bowling attack led by Hogg, also comprising Piyush Chawla, Johan Botha, Shakib Al Hasan and newcomer KC Cariappa.
The spinners cleverly managed to deceive the batsmen with considerable turn and bounce, ensuring that KKR won 5 of their 6 games played at their home turf this season.
Andre Russel - the most consistent performer
Muscleman Andre Russel turned out to be one of the most vital match winners for KKR, chipping in with all-round performances on a consistent basis. Scoring 330 runs at an impressive strike rate of 161.34, the West Indian also picked up 14 wickets in 13 games. The 27-year-old, who was in and out of the team last year, picked up three Man of the Match awards and can safely be called the best player for KKR this season.
Yusuf Pathan has a consistent tournament after 4 years
Attacking batsman Yusuf Pathan, more in the news for his lack of runs in his last 4 years with KKR, scored 312 runs in 12 games at a strike rate of 129.6. Unlike the previous seasons where the Baroda batsman would look to go over the top at every given opportunity, Pathan rather looked to play with maturity, giving adequate support to the other batsmen at the crease this season.
“This time around I have tried to tone down my attacking instinct where I would go over the top from ball one preferring instead to support the other player and stay at the crease if he is timing the ball well.”
His whirlwind knock of 42 in 24 balls against Punjab helped KKR cross the line after they were struggling at 69/3, chasing Kings XI Punjab’s 183.
Even in the must-win game against MI, Pathan held the innings together, scoring 52 in 37 deliveries before getting out with the team needing 12 in 6 deliveries, trying to loft a Pollard delivery for a maximum.
He may not have set the IPL on fire, but it is fair to say that he and Russell were the only two reliable batsmen in an otherwise ordinary KKR middle-order.
Umesh Yadav swings it his way
In a bowling attack defined primarily by the performance of the spinners, Umesh Yadav was the standout bowler from the seam department, picking up 10 wickets in the tournament.
Although expensive on occasions, the Indian was a treat to the eyes when he was swinging the ball at high pace while maintaining his accuracy.
Sunil Gavaskar called his dismissal of David Warner as the “ball of the IPL” as he cleaned up the Aussie with a beautiful outswinger in SRH’s very first over at Eden Gardens.
Narrow losses and wins after collapses
Despite failing to make it to the playoffs, the Knights can take heart from the fact that most of their games were lost by narrow margins, with the opposition rarely gaining a comprehensive win over the Knights.
Chasing 199 against RR in their last must-win league game, the defending champions were in the hunt till the end, eventually falling only 9 runs short, a loss which knocked them out of the tournament.
KKR will rue the missed chances looking at the 2-run loss suffered at the hands of CSK at Chepauk and the defeat by 5 runs against Mumbai at Wankhede.
On the other hand, KKR managed to snatch victories from the jaws of defeat on more than one occasion, holding their nerves under pressure and crossing the line when a loss looked well on the cards.
The hard-fought one-wicket victory against bottom-placed Punjab at their home ground, where Narine hit the winning runs, highlights the fighting spirit of the side which remained intact this season as well.