Two-time champions Kolkata Knight Riders narrowly missed out on a play-off spot last season and despite a few ups and downs decided to retain the core. Ahead of the auctions, they released players who would have otherwise been benched. Going into the auctions, KKR already had a well-a balanced squad, and they just needed to get a few decent backups. However, they ended up buying more than just backups and proved to be really smart in the auctions. Among the major buys are the likes of Shakib Al Hasan, Ben Cutting, Karun Nair and Harbhajan Singh, all of whom are good enough to walk into the first choice XI.
Here we look at how the squad shapes up for the upcoming season:
Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana, Tim Seifert (wk), Rahul Tripathi, Rinku Singh, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Eoin Morgan (c), Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, Varun CV, Kuldeep Yadav, Pat Cummins, Lockie Ferguson, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi, Sandeep Warrier, Prasidh Krishna, Shakib Al Hasan, Sheldon Jackson, Vaibhav Arora, Karun Nair, Harbhajan Singh, Ben Cutting, Venkatesh Iyer, Pawan Negi
Strengths and Weaknesses:
The Knight Riders are a team with no apparent weakness on paper. With almost all bases covered, KKR go into the IPL as one of the strongest sides on paper. Shubman Gill, Rahul Tripathy and Nitish Rana are likely to form the top 3, with Karun Nair and Tim Siefert being the backups for the top order. Gill showed great composure last season and with more international exposure this season, he is likely to be even more reliable. Rana and Tripathy will be expected to be the aggressors while Gill steadies one end.
The middle order is one of the most experienced and most fearsome with Morgan, Russell and Karthik. Morgan overcame his poor IPL record last season as he finally set the stage on fire in the lucrative T20 league. Karthik is a proven finisher and Russell’s brutality is not something that needs to be told. The only concern however, will be if they utilise the resources properly unlike last season, where they batted Morgan too low and Karthik and Russell too high at times. They also have the option of fitting in Narine in the middle order as a floater who can take on the spinners.
Pat Cummins and Lockie Fergusson spearhead the pace department. Cummins is coming off good form and did reasonably well both with the bat and the ball last season. He was not amongst the wickets regularly but was difficult to get away and picked crucial wickets more often than not. Fergusson was on fire whenever he got the opportunity and KKR will be looking to continue with him considering the inexperience of Indian pacers. However, despite the inexperience, the likes of Mavi and Nagarkoti showed great temperament last season. Mavi is most likely to start ahead of Nagarkoti and Prasidh Krishna in the XI, with Sandeep Warrier also in the wings. All of them are proven performers in domestic cricket and there is no reason why they can’t succeed at this level as well.
The revelation from last season Varun Chakravarthy will spearhead the spin attack. Kuldeep Yadav needs to be backed by the team management if they decide to go with Fergusson and bench both Shakib and Narine. Moreover, with Harbhajan coming in, they also have the option to play a proper off-spinner in the XI, an option which thy did not have last season.
The squad has great depth overall, with good backups in the reserve. They have Ben Cutting, an almost like for like replacement for the injury-prone Russell and also Shakib, who is a genuine all-rounder and can walk into the side for any one of his skills. KKR were handicapped at times when Russell was unfit, but with Cutting coming in, they will have the luxury to rest the Caribbean all-rounder at times and manage his workload. Shakib provides the same option in case Narine is unfit.
Overall, the squad look well set and a lot will depend on how efficiently they use the resources. Managing the workload will also be a key factor, now that they have good enough backups for the first-choice players. With the quality and depth of the squad they have, KKR are primed for a top four finish this season and anything less than that will be a disappointment.
Probable first choice playing XI: Shubman Gill, Rahul Tripathy, Nitish Rana, Eoin Morgan, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Andre Russell, Pat Cummins, Varun Chakravarthy, Lockie Fergusson, Shivam Mavi, Kuldeep Yadav