KKR are set to begin their IPL 2021 campaign on April 11 (Sunday) against Sunrisers Hyderabad. Ahead of their opening fixture, the biggest decision for the team's think-tank is the choice between Sunil Narine and Shakib Al Hasan as the team's premium all-rounder.
A move that worked for KKR for a couple of seasons ago was promoting Sunil Narine to bat at the top of the order. The move may have yielded results, but he blew hot and cold over IPL 2020. His spin wizardry has also lacked its potency in recent times.
This time around, KKR have a more balanced batting outfit. With Nitish Rana and Shubman Gill set to open the innings, the likes of Dinesh Karthik, Eoin Morgan, Andre Russell and Shakib Al Hasan might get the platform to tee off if their young openers get them off to a breezy start.
Narine's importance to the side cannot be ignored and while he has been the side's bowling mainstay since 2012, the spinner had a lean IPL 2020 season. He picked up just five wickets from ten matches and his batting suffered a dip too, as he managed just 121 runs with just one fifty to his name.
At the other end, Shakib Al Hasan, who's now had a homecoming after a brief stint with SRH, is a prime contender to take Narine's spot in the playing XI.
Although Shakib Al Hasan missed out on the IPL in 2020, KKR were happy to welcome him back into the fold during the auction earlier this year. Shakib's left-arm spin and his attacking prowess with the bat makes him a frontrunner to break into the starting lineup after Narine's poor run in the previous season.
The other spin options KKR have at their disposal are Kuldeep Yadav, breakout star Varun Chakravarthy, Pawan Negi and veteran Harbhajan Singh.
Is Shakib Al Hasan the perfect all-round option for KKR ahead of Sunil Narine?
The decision ultimately boils down to how KKR use both players. If they persist with Narine again this season despite his poor run in 2020, Shakib Al Hasan will sit out as Andre Russell, Pat Cummins and Lockie Ferguson are automatic starters in the KKR side.
However, Narine's waning abilities could help Shakib get back in the thick of things. While the West Indian all-rounder is known for his power hitting, Shakib Al Hasan lends a sense of stability in the middle that gives him the edge should Russell have an off-day with the bat.
KKR will also consider the fact that they will play three of their games in Chennai, a venue that heavily favours the spinners. And while Narine is a proven commodity, he faces a stiff challenge to maintain his spot in the playing XI, especially with Chakravarthy, Shakib, Kuldeep and Harbhajan - a quality spin quartet also in the squad.