Two-time IPL champions Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) are a proud and successful franchise with a massive fanbase. While the current skipper Eoin Morgan finds himself at the center of criticism, and rightly so, KKR and the topic of ‘captaincy’ has shared an interesting timeline.
Sourav Ganguly leading the team in the inaugural season in 2008 was expected. A season later, then coach John Buchanan was adamant on the four-captain theory; eventually, Brendon McCullum led, and KKR finished last. In 2010, the cloak fell on Sourav Ganguly again, and KKR couldn’t make the playoffs despite an improved showing.
Gautam Gambhir added fresh zest in 2011. He led for seven seasons with distinction, winning two IPL titles. Dinesh Karthik, who was in the form of his life, replaced him in 2018. His batting form saw KKR ride on success and make it to the playoffs. As runs dried for him, so did the results. The IPL 2019 was disappointing for KKR, and 2020 seemed a continuation.
Eoin Morgan’s presence in the KKR camp couldn’t be overlooked. Calls were being made to hand the captaincy to the man credited for England’s transformation in white-ball cricket. Mid-season in IPL 2020, Eoin Morgan sported an extra hat, that of KKR’s captaincy.
Dinesh Karthik would later reveal that Eoin Morgan was reluctant to take up the job. Karthik told Gaurav Kapur on 22 Yarns:
“For him, he’s captaining England, such a high-pressure thing. He wants to come and play the IPL and enjoy it. And he was thoroughly enjoying it up to the point. He was vice-captain, so basically, it’s about helping me.”
In 2020, Eoin Morgan had a mixed outing as a captain as he deployed several questionable tactics. He deserved the benefit of the doubt as he took charge of a vessel already in stormy waters and had the massive task of harboring it to the shore.
With a clean slate, KKR fans had the right reasons to remain positive for IPL 2021. They built a strong outfit. Starting with his stature as a leader in international cricket, Eoin Morgan ticked all the boxes. In 2020, he had his best IPL season, averaging 42, striking at 138. His equation with his good friend Brendon McCullum is well-known, with both making their sizeable IPL careers with KKR. And fans were happy to embrace the coach-captain partnership.
The journey under Eoin Morgan has been a rollercoaster ride for KKR. A colossal figure in England cricket, his captaincy for KKR remained under the fans and pundits’ microscope.
Eoin Morgan didn’t inspire enough in the first phase of IPL 2021
In the first phase of the tournament, KKR were tactically clueless in their losses against Mumbai Indians (MI) and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). The KKR leadership failed to read the Chennai surface correctly. Even in defeats, the clueless-looking outfit took little measure in bettering their net run rate (NRR).
Against the RCB, the match was allowed to drift despite KKR’s strong start. Asked to bowl first, Varun Chakravarthy dismissed Virat Kohli and Rajat Patidar in the second over of the match, only to be replaced when Glenn Maxwell came to bat.
Glenn Maxwell and AB de Villiers were allowed to settle in, taking the match away from KKR.
Eoin Morgan expressed his surprise at the pitch and also justified the decision on his bowling plans:
“Glenn Maxwell is a fine player, but he is not the only star player. You do need an over or two [of Varun Chakravarthy] up your sleeve for someone like AB de Villiers. RCB is full of strengths and depths. Every side in the competition is as well. So you need to plan just past one player.”
Even former KKR captain Gautam Gambhir has been critical of several of Eoin Morgan’s moves, including the one above.
Lashing out at Eoin Morgan, Gautam Gambhir said on Star Sports:
"That is probably the worst, weird kind of captaincy I have ever seen in my life — someone taking two wickets in his first over and then doesn't get to bowl the next over. You could have actually sealed the game in the first six overs."
The former Indian opener added:
"Had Varun Chakravarthy got his third wicket or had he got Glenn Maxwell out in the first six overs, this game would have been over there and then. I'm happy an Indian captain didn't make that blunder because a lot of people would have got their daggers out had an Indian captain made that call. That is the most ridiculous captaincy I have ever seen. I can't explain that."
In their loss against the Delhi Capitals (DC), Eoin Morgan was criticized by Kevin Pietersen and Sunil Gavaskar for introducing Pat Cummins as the fifth bowler when they were defending only 155.
The IPL postponement due to the COVID-19 proved to be a blessing for KKR, who were at the brink of an exit with only two wins from their first seven matches. Eoin Morgan’s batting form (average of 15) and decision-making were part of the problem.
Delights and horrors for Eoin Morgan in UAE
Before the resumption of the league in September, Kuldeep Yadav vocally expressed his displeasure at the treatment meted out to him in the KKR camp. There was a buzz about the unrest in the KKR camp. Eyes were on Eoin Morgan. Could he turn it around?
KKR have returned as a much better outfit once the league resumed in the UAE. In the win over RCB, Eoin Morgan was very good with his plans and went for the kill once their bowlers picked up the early wickets.
It did seem there was a miscalculation with overs as Andre Russell had bowled the 19th over, which was his third. The other four had finished off their quota of four overs each. Maybe it was The Hundred hangover or maybe not, but that didn’t hurt KKR as RCB were bowled out inside 19 overs.
However, KKR’s approach with the bat was refreshing, which mirrored Eoin Morgan’s England philosophy of going after the bowling. Taking confidence in the depth of their batting, KKR ensured the small chases in their wins over MI and RCB were strong enough to boost their NRR.
Wins make captains look better. But more often than not, the right calls in a fast-paced format become the foundation for success. Eoin Morgan, the captain, seemed more in control during the second phase. After the big wins over RCB and MI, they lost to CSK, where Sunil Narine almost defended four off the final over.
Amid the good shows as a team, Eoin Morgan’s personal form suffered a big slump. Sunil Narine and Nitish Rana bailed them out against DC. The match also saw an ugly tiff between the KKR captain and Ravichandran Ashwin, which snowballed into the tournament's biggest controversy.
Eoin Morgan had no business using words like 'disgrace' for someone not flouting any law of the sport. The cricket world stayed divided on the issue, with most agreeing that Eoin Morgan had no business claiming a higher moral ground.
If the absence of Pat Cummins wasn’t big enough, the injuries to Andre Russell and Lockie Ferguson compounded KKR’s woes. The leadership could have done better against the Punjab Kings (PBKS) by focusing on the balance. KKR went in with a bowler short, which eventually hurt them.
Tim Seifert played ahead of Shakib Al Hasan. If he played, why did he not bat higher, especially with Eoin Morgan's terrible run with the bat? The loss has now left KKR dependent on others to ensure playoff qualification.
Coming to the biggest question - does Eoin Morgan deserve a place in the playing XI? It’s his batting form that has hurt KKR the most. As a foreign player, can you afford to hold on to a place as a specialist captain?
Eoin Morgan in T20s in 2021
He also became the first overseas player to register nine single-digit scores in a single edition. His form is also a concern for England ahead of the T20 World Cup. One of the firm favorites, can they afford to have one of the in-form guys on the bench to accommodate Eoin Morgan?
Except for IPL 2020, Eoin Morgan hasn’t really set alight any IPL season. Even before this season, he averaged a modest 25, striking in the mid-120s. So he’s never the invaluable David Warner of the past seasons. He was being brought in for a specific role.
In the T20s, Eoin Morgan’s strike rate in death overs is 194. KKR were adding more cushions to their late-order firepower that already included Dinesh Karthik, Andre Russell and Pat Cummins. His leadership skills were also considered.
In the second phase, Eoin Morgan averages 4.25. Foreign players are a team's trump card, so making them a captain carries an element of risk. Even Ricky Ponting dropped himself from the side and relinquished the captaincy for MI in 2013. Young Rohit Sharma took charge and guided them to their maiden title, winning four more in the next seven years.
When you aren’t indispensable as a leader and prove to be a liability with your primary skills, should you continue leading? A change of leadership with two matches to go is a tricky proposition. But can KKR afford to play with 10 players in must-win games?
Do KKR go with Shakib Al Hasan? Do KKR bring back Dinesh Karthik? Do KKR see a potential Rohit Sharma in Shubman Gill? We don’t know. The clock is ticking. Most likely, it will be Eoin Morgan considering the back of the coach.
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If Eoin Morgan plays, runs are his currency that will make him most valuable. If you are one of the four foreign players, your asset is the maximum utilization of your primary skill, which cannot be captaincy, which anyway is subjective and not without its flaws.
Q. Should Eoin Morgan be dropped from the KKR XI?
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