The 2021 season of the IPL was nothing short of a roller coaster ride for the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR). The two-time champions got off to a poor start in the India leg of their campaign, finding themselves languishing in the bottom half of the points table with just two wins in seven games.
Once the tournament was suspended midway due to an outbreak of coronavirus in the bio-bubble, not many gave KKR a chance in the second leg in the UAE. It wasn't a wrong assumption either, considering the steep mountain that KKR had to climb in order to give themselves a shot at making the playoffs.
What transpired though was completely unanticipated - KKR went about bossing the UAE leg of the tournament, obliterating teams of the might of Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and Mumbai Indians (MI) en route to securing a playoffs spot.
That they did so by adopting a fearless brand of cricket was doing justice to the template that skipper Eoin Morgan and head coach Brendon McCullum are known for.
A fairytale conclusion eluded them, however, as they lost to the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in the summit clash. That said, their comeback was nonetheless one for the ages and a large part of it was down to the manner in which their young Indian players stood up and took responsibility.
With quite a few of their Indian players certain to command a lot of attention in the 2022 mega auction, we take a look at three players who the Knight Riders could look at retaining ahead of the IPL 2022 auction.
#1 Shubman Gill
That Shubman Gill is a prodigious talent who is touted to be the next big thing in Indian cricket needs no restatement. The stylish right-hander, from Punjab, has already written himself into Indian cricketing folklore courtesy of a match-winning 91 that set the tone for India's historic conquest of the Gabba against Australia earlier this year.
Gill also played in the final of the World Test Championship before an injury ruled him out of the Test series against England that followed. Gill returned to action during the UAE leg of the IPL 2021 and led the way with a string of consistent showings for KKR while opening the batting.
For a batter whose scoring rate has often come under immense scrutiny, Gill's changed approach in taking on the bowlers in the powerplay was a refreshing sight.
It was an approach that helped KKR get off the blocks quickly and put the opposition under immense pressure, while Gill also ensured that he toned his tempo down when needed, playing the situation of the game to perfection.
Given that he has been a part of KKR's leadership group as well, as mentioned by McCullum during the start of the 2021 season, a new cycle presents the perfect opportunity for KKR to welcome a new era.
To that end, there is every possibility that Gill will not just be retained ahead of the 2022 season but may well be handed over the reins of the captaincy as well with it.
#2 Varun Chakravarthy
Categorizing Varun Chakravarthy as an off-spinner or a leg-spinner is quite tough. An apt description would probably read 'right-arm jack of all trades', considering the wide range of deliveries he has at his disposal. And a good account of this has been seen over the last couple of seasons when he donned the purple of KKR.
Bowling in tandem with Sunil Narine, Chakravarthy has stifled batters in his path with his lengths being the biggest standout. Batters have hardly had any room to work with and picking him off his palm is no easy proposition either. The result of two successful campaigns in the IPL has seen Chakravarthy go on to make his India debut while also representing the country in the ongoing T20 World Cup.
A bowler who can operate at any stage of the innings, pick up wickets, keep the runs down and take the pitch out of the equation is a rare breed. KKR have had a USP of this kind in the form of Chakravarthy over the last couple of seasons - surely they will be building their next bowling attack around him? Needless to say, it would be a surprise if they do not retain Chakravarthy.
#3 Venkatesh Iyer
From aspiring to becoming a charted accountant to giving up a job at an MNC to then finishing as one of the chief catalysts behind KKR's incredible turnaround in the UAE leg of IPL 2021 - quite a journey, eh? Venkatesh Iyer has lived this journey and has cricket followers excited about the abilities of the opener from Madhya Pradesh.
Iyer's approach in the powerplay personified intent and along with Shubman Gill set up games by providing the team with a solid platform to cash in on. Add to it his electrifying fielding and medium-pace bowling, and he is one of those multi-dimensional packages that are rare to come by, especially in the domestic market.
That Iyer will attract interest from a lot of teams ahead of next season is a no-brainer. It's not just his skills on the field that have stood out, but the manner in which he approaches the game, with a composed head on his shoulders.
With a full career ahead of him and the ability to contribute in more than one facet of the game, do not be surprised if KKR retain Iyer.
Q. Will KKR retain their captain from IPL 2021, Eoin Morgan?
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