Akshay Gopalakrishnan assessed how the Kolkata Knight Riders are shaping up ahead of the 2019 Indian Premier League season. Who have they signed, who are their danger men and how have they fared in previous IPL seasons?
Kolkata Knight Riders profile
Captain: Dinesh Karthik
Home ground: Eden Gardens, Kolkata
Owners: Shah Rukh Khan (Red Chillies Entertainment), and Juhi Chawla and Jay Mehta (Mehta Group)
Past results: 2018: play-offs (third place); 2017: play-offs (third place); 2016: play-offs (fourth place); 2015: 5th place; 2014: Champions; 2013: 7th place; 2012: Champions; 2011: play-offs (fourth place); 2010: sixth place; 2009: eighth place; 2008: sixth place
IPL titles: 2
Kolkata Knight Riders’ history can be neatly bifurcated into two parts. Their first three seasons were marred by misfiring big names, a problematic multiple-captain strategy, and an infamous fallout between Sourav Ganguly and a team coach. With Brendon McCullum’s belligerance, they gave the IPL a rousing start; under McCullum’s captaincy, they finished last in 2009, with 10 defeats in 14 matches.
Then, Gautam Gambhir was bought for $2.4 million and was made captain in 2011. Gambhir took a proactive approach, instilled confidence and belief, and brought in Sunil Narine in 2012 to put KKR on the path to success. Since Gambhir took over, KKR have steadily grown from strength to strength, making the play-offs six times in eight seasons and lifting the IPL trophy twice.
Gambhir has since moved on, to Delhi Daredevils last season and the commentary box now, but the legacy he’s left behind is there to see. KKR have among the most balanced sides in the IPL. The top order packs a punch with Chris Lynn and Robin Uthappa – or will it be Sunil Narine? The middle order is filled with fresh blood in Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana and Rinku Singh. Dinesh Karthik and Piyush Chawla lend experience. Kuldeep Yadav brings international success, Andre Russell brute strength, and Narine guile, class and skill.
That’s almost everything you need to win a T20 league. Knight Riders are a formidable side at home and rarely lose there. Much of their success over the last eight seasons has been down to establishing the Eden Gardens as their bastion.
Among the most striking aspects of the KKR squad’s make-up this year is the sheer depth of Indian domestic talent: Gill, Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti are all India under-19 stars. In a World Cup year, when most teams will be plagued by a shallow overseas roster as teams begin their respective preparations towards the end of the league, that could make a critical difference.
Lynn, Narine and Russell are a lockdown for three of the four overseas slots. The all-rounder pool has been bolstered with the addition of Carlos Brathwaite, for INR 5 crore, while England’s Joe Denly adds more muscle to the batting. Kolkata have done away with the Australian left-arm pace duo of Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson, and replaced them with South African Anrich Nortje, who hit speeds upwards of 150kph in the Mzansi Super League, and New Zealand fast bowler Lockie Ferguson.
Key Indian player: Kuldeep Yadav
The left-arm wrist-spinner brings with him a ton of recent international experience and success. Kuldeep has been integral to India’s one-day juggernaut over the past year, and has been successful across conditions, with ODI four-wicket hauls in South Africa and New Zealand, and a career-best six-for in Nottingham. Likewise, his two best performances in T20Is have come in Manchester and Dublin. Having left a mark around the globe, Kuldeep will relish a return home, to the slow, turning tracks at Eden Gardens.
Key overseas player: Sunil Narine
Having started out as a mystery spinner, Narine has evolved into a multi-utility player. He gives cheap overs, picks up wickets at important junctures, and is a reliable partnership-breaker. Over the last two seasons, Narine has also given an overview of his batting potential. A pinch-hitter who walks in with zero pressure to deliver, Narine can bruise bowling attacks severely inside the Powerplay, and rarely eats up dots, making life simpler for the full-time batsmen.
Kolkata Knight Riders squad
Chris Lynn, Robin Uthappa, Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana, Rinku Singh, Dinesh Karthik (c), Nikhil Naik, Andre Russell, Joe Denly, Shrikant Mundhe, Carlos Brathwaite, Piyush Chawla, Kuldeep Yadav, Sunil Narine, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi, Prithvi Raj, Harry Gurney, Anrich Nortje, Lockie Ferguson
Kolkata have the resources to go the distance and lift the IPL trophy for a third time. But this is a long and highly competitive league, and in a game of narrow margins, all it takes is one bad day to crash out. But given the talent at hand, a play-offs entry should be minimum.