Robin Uthappa’s recent form has boosted KKR © IANS
After losing several initial matches, including a defeat against Delhi Daredevils (DD) in the early stages of Indian Premier League (IPL) 2014, Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) have come back strongly to defeat top teams like Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) and Chennai Super Kings (CSK). Sudatta Mukherjee looks at the five things that clicked for the Shahrukh Khan and Juhi Chawla-owned franchise, after they became the third team to qualify for IPL 7 playoffs on Thursday.
KKR had started IPL 2014 on a high, defeating defending champions Mumbai Indians (MI) in the opening encounter by 41 runs. However, after that it was a mixed state of affair for the side. They lost against DD and won against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in what was a close encounter. In their fourth match, they were outsmarted by KXIP and from there KKR went on to lose another three matches.
After scoring three consecutive ducks, skipper Gautam Gambhir staged his comeback with 45 against Rajasthan Royals (RR), however, in a losing cause. Even though things seemed good for KKR, some calculations were going on. It is then that they decided that they were taking few players too seriously and few too lightly. After eight- and nine-wicket wins against DD and KXIP respectively, there has been no looking back for KKR.
Here are the five things which went in favour of the Kolkata Knight Riders, that made sure they qualified for IPL 7 playoffs:
1. Robin Uthappa’s phenomenal success: KKR followed their last two years’ pattern and made Jacques Kallis and Gautam Gambhir open the batting for them in the first three games. After that didn’t click, they shuffled between Kallis and Manish Pandey, and Gambhir and Manvinder Bisla at the top. Finally, in KKR’s sixth match, Gambhir walked out to open with Robin Uthappa. Uthappa scored 47, but KKR lost the match. The management, to their credit, decided to continue with the pair. In the next match, Uthappa scored 65, and along with Gambhir put up a partnership of 121 runs for first wicket. After 13 matches Uthappa has scored 572 runs, has a strike-rate of 137.50 and an average of 47.66. He is the current Orange Cup holder in IPL 7.
2. Sunil Narine’s ability to baffle batsmen: Even two years after making his debut for KKR, the West Indian ‘mystery spinner’ continues to bewilder batsmen. At an average of 15.60, and an economy rate of 6.00, Sunil Narine has picked up 20 wickets from 13 matches. One will understand how influential Narine is if one goes back to Thursday’s encounter against RCB. When Virat Kohli and Yogesh Takawale were going strong, Gambhir summoned the West Indian tweaker, who sent both set batsmen packing. KKR’s worries were not over, as though they were slowly inching closer to victory, Yuvraj Singh and AB de Villiers were still at the crease. In Narine’s last over, he removed both men, and finished with figures of four for 20 from four overs.
3. Shakib Al Hasan’s all-round performance: After having a miserable ICC World Twenty20 2014, one would have expected Shakib al Hasan to come to IPL with a deflated spirit. When Shakib replaced Kallis, the KKR fans doubted the decision of the team management. However, Shakib rose to the occasion brilliantly.
In the 10 matches so far he has played, Shakib has scored 196 runs and has a brilliant average of 49 and a strike-rate of 158.06. He has picked up nine wickets and has a decent economy rate of 6.31. The brilliance of Shakib can only be understand as one looks back at his innings of 60 and partnership of 121 runs for fourth wicket with Uthappa, that steered KKR’s innings from 56 for the loss of three wickets to 177, proves his strength.
4. Believing in Manish Pandey: He might not have scored those big runs consistently, but Manish Pandey has played cameos over and over, that have helped KKR time and again. From 13 matches, Pandey has scored 284 runs at an average of 28.40 and a strike-rate of 107.98. The numbers could have been better — but what is important is the fact that Pandey has almost always clicked when it was necessary.
5. Shuffling the batting order and THE DECISION: One could argue whether or not dropping Kallis was a good decision. However, if one goes back to his stats in IPL 2014, Kallis has never really delivered barring his 72 against MI and 43 against RCB. His bowling has been more ordinary: his four wickets have come at 46.50 apiece and at an economy of 8.45.
KKR could easily done shifted Kallis down the order, since having the Gambhir-Uthappa-Pandey trio at the top and Shakib at four has been working for them. Instead of replacing him with Ryan ten Doeschate, KKR could have asked Kallis to bat where “Tendo” is at the moment, but perhaps they believe that the Dutchman is a bigger threat in the slog overs than the Protean legend. Whatever it is, it has been working.
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(Sudatta Mukherjee is a reporter with CricketCountry. Other than writing on cricket, she spends penning random thoughts on her blog and produces weekly posts on new food joints at Whopping Weekends. She played Table Tennis for University of Calcutta. When she is not writing, you will catch her at a movie theatre or watching some English serial on her laptop. Her Twitter id is @blackrosegal)