The little things that knocked out defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders this season
Ever since the incorporation of Gautam Gambhir as the side’s captain in 2011, KKR has been a mightly fine T20 team as their performances in IPL and Champions League show. In the last five seasons they reached the IPL playoffs thrice and ended up winners two times. However despite going close in the current edition, the defending champs failed to make the playoffs this season.
Perhaps it was as well because they never looked like threatening the top teams this time around, and therefore got spared the blushes by being restricted to the league stage.
The points table shows them having won 7 out of their 14 matches, with a win against each of the sides at least once, except against RCB and RR (one of the games against RR was washed off). Other teams have actually gone through with similar win counts, and a bit more of luck would’ve seen them through as well.
The KKR outfit seems to be moulded on the personality of captain Gautam Gambhir. The bowling attack is one of the most potent and consistent in the tournament. The field settings show an attacking, positive mindset. Both features are reminiscent of their diminutive skipper – hard, aggressive and no-nonsense to the core.
The batting seems to be at best complementary to the bowling; an utility artillery designed with enough ammunition as to just about knock off the opposition runs, and nothing more. Once again a daguerreotype of the skipper – flamboyant as a principle without being flashy.
The components of the team are loaded with national discards, fringe players and players away from the mainstream. Once again a stamp of GG’s rebel status. Adamant to succeed with what authorities have rejected. Making a winner out of a superstar-less bunch that play for each other.
No wonder his team would have some of his bull-headed, adamant and resilient character rubbed off into the collective persona. And for many reasons they are a mighty good side, but some rust may have finally collected by the wheels. The winning formula which worked so far, does not seem to be sustainable much longer. And reasons for that are as I’ve mentioned above, and will dissect below, the little things:
Ever since Morne Morkel dropped Gayle at the boundary vs RCB at a critical stage in Match 5, the dystopic tone for fielding had been set for the side. Balls slipping past flailing hands, dropped catches and lack of any lifting X-factor. The worst probably came against KXIP at Eden on May 9th, with 6 dropped catches.
In the modern day T20 game such fielding has no place, and it’s no surprise this came back to bite them up the backside. Maybe alongside Wasim Akram in bowling and Jacques Kallis in batting it’s time to reign in the services of a specialist fielding coach?
Top-order not as consistent as last season
It is well charted how Robin Uthappa’s string of 40-plus scores in last year’s tournament played a big part in winning the team the trophy. But this year the opener’s average dropped to 30 from 44, and together with Gambhir he could no longer give the kind of starts he was providing the team with last season. 50-run stands were few and far between.
However it is also expected that such marathon heights wouldn’t be scaled every time by the same individuals. Therefore, though the openers weren’t the force they were last season, a middle order rising to the occasion would’ve filled up for this deficiency.
KKR’s reluctance to go mainstream
Another factor that may not be as well registered as it probably should be. The batting order seems starkly amiss of international superstars. The only batter with enough international experience after Kallis stepped down is captain Gambhir. Maybe the lack of experience shows sometimes in crunch games with the over-dependence on Yusuf Pathan and Andre Russell becoming too evident.
In the light of their failures, the Pandeys, Yadavs, Ten Doeschates and Chawlas can’t be relied upon too often, as has been shown. Superstars might carry their extra weight, but they have their values as well. Come next auction time, and a big name or two at least in the batting can’t hurt much.
Spinners and the Narine factor
KKR’s USP is spin. It’s no secret that they’ve stacked their side with spinners. At times, even at the cost of pace. Perhaps a spinner too much? Someone like Vinay Kumar of last season could’ve complimented Umesh Yadav and Morkel? The Bengal Ranji team don’t have a dearth of seamers after all. Obviously, Sunil Narine wasn’t as big a factor for them this time, the first time he’s looked close to ordinary ever since he began playing for KKR.
A simple look at stats would tell you that. Resourceful as Gambhir is, he had a plan B ready with Brad Hogg. But in the later stages he seemed to be missing from the team in crucial games, despite having performed very well previously.
Losing close games
Not holding their nerves and finishing off games they had in their pockets clearly hurt them the most. The captain is convinced the 2-run defeat against Chennai, and the 5-run one against MI cost the team’s passage into the playoffs. A bit more of composure at the death, and some more clarity in thought was needed.
Against Mumbai at the Wankhede especially, Yusuf and Suryakumar Yadav were going great guns till Yadav managed to find the fielder at the deep mid-wicket boundary. Yusuf self-destructed with Pollard’s short ball, and Chawla acted as if slower balls were some postmodern deconstruction he’d never for the life of him been exposed to! Perhaps a more stable hand lower down the batting order would’ve prevented this kind of hara-kiri in close games.
Overplaying certain hands
In T20 cricket you simply have to keep your opposition guessing all the time, and this is one department where Gambhir has done quite well. But the way Manish Pandey and Suryakumar Yadav, KKR’s two misfiring mainstays were utilised this season begs the question of him once again. Pandey has repeatedly played uni-dimensional, attacking cricket without being able to rotate strike in the middle overs. His predictable style of play was especially conspicuous against SRH in Match 19, where Russell’s mini cameo was nullified somewhat by him costing KKR the momentum and the match.
Maybe a bit of break for him at some stage in the competition would’ve given him time to analyse his mistakes? But then, did KKR have a suitable replacement for Pandey? If not, then they have to look at the batting composition. Surya, once again, has been repeatedly sent far too low down the batting order. One can’t help feeling the opposition exploited such repetitive strategies, especially in light of the fact they were not off to a great start.
In bowling too, Morne Morkel, though brilliant as ever, appears just a bit of an old leg not just with repetitive lengths at the death but also with his fielding. Umesh, though prodigious, was still too erratic and inconsistent. Time to rejig the pace department maybe?
T20 cricket is a cruel world. Despite doing quite well in a few fronts, not paying attention to details and doing the little things as well as in 2014 and 2012 might’ve proved fatal for the defending champs. Sometimes the key to success is just the attention to detail. Hopefully Gautam Gambhir and the franchise heads can dig deep and do that by the time Champions League and IPL ’16 comes around. A team of such fine character after all deserves a better finish than 5th on the points table.