The Kolkata Knight Riders are possibly the most settled franchise in the IPL. Captained by experienced opener Gautam Gambhir and coached by Jacques Kallis, who took over from the incredibly successful Trevor Bayliss, KKR are one of the most successful IPL teams in recent years.
Establishing the Core
This Kolkata team is just all core and I mean all core. They have a few selection dilemmas but nowhere near as many as the other IPL sides, that’s down to the low player turnover and consistent selection policy that comes with being a successful team.
Kolkata Knight Riders posses possibly the most settled opening partnership in the IPL this year with Gautam Gambhir and wicketkeeper Robin Uthappa facing the new ball. Profiling these two, you can establish the differences between the two opening players. Interpreting the strike-rate and the somewhat hit/miss nature of his scoring, Uthappa is the more aggressive of the duo. Uthappa was caught out in 10 of his 15 appearances and struggled against spin. He ‘got out’ of the powerplay overs on multiple occasions before succumbing to the pressure created by some of the better spinner bowlers, with his tendency to ‘slog’ as opposed to rotate the strike with his partner. With just four 50’s in his last 28 IPL games spread across the last two campaigns, surely there will be some question marks surrounding his position should he fail once-more, with Sheldon Jackson, also an opening batsman-cum-wicket-keeper waiting in the wings.
Gambhir is the safer of the two picks and his scores tend to be more subtle. His strike rate of just under 122 is nothing to be excited about but he puts runs on the board. He hit the 25 runs bonus mark in 9/15 games and registered six 50+ scores, there aren’t many more consistent in the game right now nor many better traditional stroke players. If you’re picking between the two based on the information i’m feeding you, Gambhir looks like a much better option, right?
Manish Pandey is 27-years-old. Did I read that correctly? Wow, how time flies. Pandey has had 6 IPL campaigns with at least 10 games and we’re still waiting for that one season where he defines himself as a true stud in the format. He’s still a good player and with that a good fantasy option hidden behind Uthappa & Gambhir due to his frailties against the moving ball and anyone bowling excessive pace of 140kmph+. Pandey’s intention is staying at the crease for as long as possible, playing positive cricket and thriving off spinners and medium pacers after the power play. Now there’s nothing to suggest that this is his year but a talent like this cannot remain dormant forever, surely?
One player that could stop Pandey’s big year is Chris Lynn. Andre Russell’s ban leaves a lot of power unaccounted for in this KKR batting unit, and big Yusuf Pathan can only do so much in the middle order. Lynn was overlooked last year by the KKR thinktank, most likely due to his inability to count spin but recent campaigns in the Big Bash, and particularly in spin friendly conditions in the Caribbean show his technical improvements with the ability to negotiate spin-heavy middle over periods and pick apart the pacers. A player with his big hitting capabilities shouldn’t be overlooked, despite the hit and miss success rate of overseas players in a similar mold to himself i’d expect good things from the Aussie.
Should Lynn make the line-up I’d like to see a certain amount of flexibility between he and Manish Pandey at 3-4 with the KKR thinktank reading the game state and sending in the appropriate batsman but Lynn should bat higher if he comes in after 4 overs, based on his ability to target bowlers and score at a 150+ Strike Rate.
Yusuf Pathan is still likely to be regarded as an all-rounder despite bowling just six overs last year but his main role these days is as KKRs middle order matchwinner. The problem here for us as fantasy players is picking his games. Ideally you’d want him batting first or chasing a big score, that’s likely when he’ll come into play with his bruising striking during the death overs. With Chris Lynn in, however, his opportunities might be few and far between, i’d stay away from the 34-year-old for the opening phase until we know his effectiveness in this team.
Since being enforced to reinvent his illegal bowling action Sunil Narine is yet to produce a stellar IPL campaign and is no where his incredible initial three year stretch as the mystery spinner for KKR, but he’s still good. The Trinidadian can still turn it both ways and vary his line and pace but the magic of watching him bowl will never quite be the same. As an overseas fantasy option he’s probably not worth the hassle just now, unless we see a return to some elite level bowling but his batting has really come on in the last year and could fill that void. He was often used as a pinch hitter for Lahore Qalanders in the PSL and even opened a few times for Melbourne Renegades alongside Aaron Finch in the Big Bash. The magic is lost but there might be just enough fantasy appeal, for now.
Trent Boult was a big buy in the process of improving the Knight Riders this auction season. With Morne Morkel’s fitness levels no longer able to handle the strain of another IPL season and Jason Holder being just, well, Jason Holder the KKR overseas pacer department needed a name, and it got one. The left-arm quick has the ability to swing it both ways, even in Indian conditions and this threat will be much required outside of Eden Gardens, where the spin-heavy attack generally struggles. The one-two punch of a Boult-Umesh Yadav new ball pairing should spark a more competitive pace bowling attack this year and both should be considered fantasy-wise, maybe Umesh more so as he doesn’t take an overseas slot and will be cut-price.
Filling in the blanks
Likely to be held back at #6 is supreme Indian talent Suryakumar Yadav. He’s hardly a fantasy option here unless you play in a deep draft league or the uncapped players rule returns but he offers some clean hitting and can be deployed as a finisher. it would be exciting to see him moved up the order but looking at the surrounding players it seems just as likely that he’s dropped as it is he plays a prominent role in this team.
The spin attack in Kolkata has to be one of the best in the tournament. Right-arm off spinner Sunil Narine, right-arm leggie Piyush Chawla, left-arm orthodox spinner Shakib Al Hasan and left-arm chinaman Kuldeep Yadav. This does come with its drawbacks fantasy wise however, the fact that KKR have all bases covers allows for a Gambhir/Kallis to chop and change based on opposition line-ups and pitch conditions.
Initial thoughts are that KKR will play at least two spinners, one being Sunil Narine, and the other one of the Indians,
probably Kuldeep based on the fact he was played over Chawla at the back end of last year. Should KKR play three spinners, it will depend entirely on the makeup of their line-up as to who the third will be. SK Yadav or Umesh Yadav could make way for Chawla, whilst there is still one overseas spot available with Lynn, Narine & Boult being the three linchpins. Shakib Al Hasan should get the start based on his all-round ability but Kolkata seem to play him as a pure bowler, which is probably suitable given his T20 batting record. Expect to see Shakib replaced by Woakes on occasion, where the pitch favours the English all-rounder. This all seems a bit complicated but the KKR thinktank do like to rotate pretty frequently so beware.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNT?
Kolkata Knight Riders haven’t changed much this year but in a way they have changed a lot. Gambhir is likely to be as safe but unspectacular as usual with Yusuf Pathan being the polar opposite(unsafe but spectacular), whilst there is pressure on opening partner Uthappa. Could this be the year that talented Indians Pandey & SK Yadav thrive?
Chris Lynn has the ability to be a match-winner for the side if he is given the correct situation to thrive in, i’d back him to produce. Auction addition Trent Boult should compliment the KKR spin quartet, who pose an incredible threat to opposing batting units, but the thinktank might just do more damage in rotating between the four. Kuldeep Yadav might be the breakout candidate here.
The missing Andre Russell will hit Kolkata and fantasy managers like but there are better options in this team due to his absence.