IPL 2018 Retentions: Decoding Kolkata Knight Riders' policy
The format might be thrashed and the league chastised even more, but one cannot fail to notice the excitement that any news involving the Indian Premier League brings along. Despite having been embroiled in controversies and scandals in its decade-long existence, critics and fanatics alike never fail to assemble to analyse and dissect each franchise’s moves and policies ahead of yet another season.
As the list of the retained players for the eleventh edition of the IPL were revealed by the owners, with each team bringing about its own share of surprises and shockers, the one squad that really astounded many in their picks was Kolkata Knight Riders. The team, which had a terrible run in their initial three years, was revamped in the fourth season with prolific layer Sourav Ganguly being discarded for the younger and equally aggressive Gautam Gambhir.
Faced with bitter hostility from the Kolkatans, Gambhir soon swept over the city with consistent performances that saw KKR bag the title twice in the span of three years. Equipped with a strong core team that comprised of Robin Uthappa, Shakib Al Hasan, Sunil Narine, Umesh Yadav and Manish Pandey, the Shah Rukh Khan-owned franchise soon became a force to reckon with, aided by the strong leadership qualities brought forward by Gambhir.
Not retaining Gambhir: an astute decision
Hence, it was always going to be an interesting decision. Should they persist with the 36-year old and retain him for the next three years or should they take the risk to let him go and bag him in the auctions, using one of the three Right-To-Match cards on him? By not keeping him with them, the management have made their intentions clear - spending 15 crores or even 12.5 crores on the player, who will be forty by the time the new contract expires, hardly made any sense. With a strike-rate that never went beyond 128 in the last six seasons, Gambhir might not exactly set the auction round on fire and the astute KKR owners thought it better to pick him up at a much lesser rate, using the RTM card on him.
But what makes it certain that he indeed will come back to the franchise? His batting performances have been inconsistent and his inability to strike the big hits has not gone unnoticed by many but his captaincy skills have set him apart in the IPL. From preferring a strong bowling unit in this batsmen’s format to using his spin options rather cleverly, Gambhir has turned out to be a true leader and man-manager of the squad. From hardly hesitating to employ four fielders around MS Dhoni to wearing his heart on his sleeve, the left-hander has shown belief in his young colts and one cannot debate that his towering confidence in players like Kuldeep Yadav and Manish Pandey is a major reason why they have become regulars in the national side recently.
With all the other teams, sans Delhi Daredevils and Kings XI Punjab, retaining their captains from the previous season, it is unlikely that a bidding war will erupt over Gambhir, in which case KKR can get back their skipper at a cheaper rate than what they would have paid for him if he had been retained.
Andre Russel proves a good bet for the team
This brings us down to the two players who are still with the Knights- Andre Russell and Sunil Narine.
Russell’s selection was almost an automated one. Even though he was banned from playing last season, he had proved his worth in 2016, in which he finished with a strike rate of 164.91, along with 15 wickets at an average of 19.40 and an economy of less than 8 runs per over. With the T20 format highly stacked in favour of the all-rounders, Russell is a value for money player and his match-winning abilities make him an indispensable part of any unit.
Narine over Lynn: Why the decision fails to make sense
However, the retention of Narine over Chris Lynn is the interesting choice here. Lynn’s heroics in the T20 format make him one of the most dangerous players and even though he missed out on a major part of the IPL season last year due to injury, his strike rate of 180.98 in seven games showcased his worth. In the 95 T20 games that the Aussie has played, his strike rate touches almost 150 and along with an average of 36.98, the burly player remains a most sought-after cricketer; one whom rivals loathe and supporters cherish.
He was bought for 269,000 USD in the 2016 auctions and ever since his worth has only increased, with Delhi Daredevils’ coach Ricky Ponting even predicting that his countryman would go for more than a million in the auctions later this month. In such a scenario, KKR spending just 12.5 crores or even 8.5 crores on this player would have been the biggest deals of this year’s IPL bazaar.
Yes, Narine too is held dear to the KKR management but his new action hardly makes him the bowler he was before. Last year, he averaged 41.2 with the ball, which is in stark contrast to the average of 13.5 in 2012- a performance that helped guide the team to their first IPL trophy. If he has been retained in the squad for his batting, which was a revelation last season, then it would have made more sense to go in with a regular batsman in the form of Lynn.
With Narine not expected to cost as much as the Aussie in the auctions, KKR could have been wiser if they would have bought him in the auctions. In all probability, he would not have demanded a price of more than 5 crores, which would not only have saved KKR the budget for another player but also ensured the presence of Lynn, Russel and Narine at a more economical price.
Shakib al Hasan and Nathan Coulter-Nile were the other foreign names in the KKR circuit, but when compared to the effectiveness of the above three names, they hardly stood a chance.
Expected use of the Right-To-Match cards
With two foreign slots already been assigned, it all boils down to the three Indian players they can snarl up in the auctions. Gambhir, in all probability, will be one, even though he has conveyed his intentions of ending his career with his home team Daredevils.
Manish Pandey and Kuldeep Yadav, with their lofty hits and chinaman bowling, respectively, should be the other players that make a return to the purple-and-gold outfit. Robin Uthappa too can come up for discussion but with wicket-keeper batsmen KL Rahul and Quinton de Kock in the auction pool as well, the logistics will rule the roost as far as Uthappa’s return to the side is concerned.
Whether the franchise will carry on their love-affair with spinners and go ahead with a bowling-heavy unit is eagerly awaited but as far as the retention policies are concerned, the exclusion of Lynn was probably one of the biggest shockers of the season.