regular-article-logo Wednesday, 31 May 2023

'Courage' drives Knights as they battle dilemmas

Chandrakant Pandit and new-but-confident captain Nitish Rana are ready to take things head-on right from onset

Sayak Banerjee Calcutta Published 29.03.23, 05:34 AM
Andre Russell during practice at the Eden, as Shardul Thakur (left) looks on

Andre Russell during practice at the Eden, as Shardul Thakur (left) looks on Sourced by the Telegraph

“Team effort” is the buzzword for the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) as they look to put behind the disappointments of last season and deliver performances worthy of two-time champions.

The Knights aren’t really a star-studded unit this season, which means if they don’t get off to a good start, they will be buried under criticism from all quarters. That said, a shrewd head coach in Chandrakant Pandit and a new-but-confident captain in Nitish Rana — stepping in for the indisposed Shreyas Iyer — are ready to take things head-on right from the onset.


But how ready are they? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Before the Knights begin their quest, we take stock of their arsenal.

Bowling variety

Like almost every year, it’s the Knight Riders’ bowling that keeps the team in good stead. In a distinguished off-spinner like Sunil Narine, they have a bowler who can take wickets at crucial phases and also stem the run flow of the opposition regardless of the pressure his team is under. The Trinidadian can unleash a few blows with the bat as well, though in the last couple of seasons, one felt that opposition bowlers have figured out ways of countering his unconventional approach with the bat.

The much-experienced Shakib-al Hasan and Varun Chakravarthy are the other spin options. The Knights are hopeful of Shakib’s availability before their tournament opener against Punjab Kings at Mohali on Saturday.

In Tim Southee, Lockie Ferguson and Umesh Yadav, the Knights have a well-oiled fast bowling group rich in international experience.

There’s also additional support in the form of all-rounders Andre Russell, Shardul Thakur and David Wiese. Namibian international Wiese is a new addition and one needs to find out how he adapts to the IPL, but Russell and Shardul’s bowling skills, especially their knack for giving key breakthroughs, will surely help the Knights.

“The way we have done our preparation and followed the process, we hope everything will go the right way,” Pandit said.

Varun Chakravarthy; Venkatesh Iyer

Varun Chakravarthy; Venkatesh Iyer

The headache

Batting does look to be an area of concern for the Knight Riders. The problem lies mainly in their top order, as barring skipper Rana, the others don’t inspire much confidence. Tamil Nadu’s Narayan Jagadeesan, who was amongst the runs last season, is certainly promising. But how he fares against top bowlers remains to be seen. Venkatesh Iyer, who has had success in the past as an opener, isn’t in the best of shape either.

Bangladesh opener Litton Das can provide some solidity to the batting order, but he won’t be available for long because of his international commitments.

Captain Rana is a gritty customer with the bat, and it appears he may have to take some extra bit of workload. Rinku Singh impressed briefly last year, but he’s primarily a middle-order batsman. Unless the top order makes sufficient contributions, the Knights’ prospects will rely hugely on how well Russell is able to make use of the slog overs.

Russell’s muscle

Russell’s international performances matter little when he’s in the IPL. A completely different beast when playing in the most competitive T20 franchise league, Russell has proved he can single-handedly win his team a game with his relentless big-hitting. A gun fielder at the deep, his bowling spells at the death have also often made a difference in the game.

What bodes well for the Knights is that the 34-year-old Jamaican has appeared in fine rhythm and touch during the recent practice sessions at Eden Gardens. KKR would only hope Russell stays fit right through, for he does have this tendency of sustaining injuries.

While on that, it is also good that the Knights have Wiese and Shardul in their squad this time. Russell will need intelligent handling and if he is to be given rest for a match or two, the Knights can make use of Wiese or Shardul, who are good all-rounders.

Who’s the keeper?

Last year, wicketkeeping was a messed up area in the Knights’ XI and nothing worked for them. This time they seem to have better options in Bangladesh’s Litton, Afghanistan’s Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Jagadeesan.

It will be interesting to see who gets the nod. Playing Jagadeesan will of course open up a slot for an overseas player, but Litton and Gurbaz are tempting options for their skills with the bat.

Captaincy call

Nitish Rana faces a challenging task, captaincy in IPL is like a rough mountain ride where even the best stumble. But in Pandit, he has a master strategist as coach, and if there’s a good partnership between the two, who knows, the Knights can surprise everyone even without Shreyas.

“Nitish is capable... Like they say, ‘all boxes to be ticked’. As long as any team plays as a unit, it will make a difference. A united group of players always make a difference. We want players to show courage, and if they do, the team will do well,” says Pandit.

Last year: Seventh

Best finish: Champions in 2012 & 2014

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