Lack of batting support for Gambhir is a matter of concern for KKR

Jacques Kallis, who is the second highest run-scorer for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), has scored only about half the run amassed by skipper Gautam Gambhir © AFP

By Nishad Pai Vaidya
The knights in the golden armour are living up to their popular motto, “Korbo, Lorbo, Jeetbo.” After stuttering a bit at the start of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2012, Gautam Gambhir’s Kolkata Knight Riders have been a formidable force and strengthening its charge with each passing game. Historically, Kolkata have been underperformers in the IPL as their strong set-up in the first three seasons failed to produce the desired results. A new-look side under Gambhir made the play-offs last season and look good to repeat this season. However, if they are to maintain their dominant run, they need to address a few chinks as the tournament is moving towards a very critical phase.

 

Gambhir anchors the batting, but who will support him?

 

Gambhir has been KKR’s talismanic batsman and has led from the front with a few belligerent knocks. Although he is an attacking player, one wouldn’t expect him to score at an astonishingly high strike-rate of 143.70 that he is striking this season. His T20 career strike-rate is 124.78, which is an acceptable number and is indicative of stability. However, his latest performances indicate that he has played with a lot more freedom and is ready to compete with his celebrated Indian opening partner, Virender Sehwag.

 

During the last two knocks, Gambhir illustrated the two sides to his batting in T20 cricket. While the knock against Bangalore was attacking and tore apart the bowling attack, his innings against Chennai was typically responsible and measured. During both these knocks, he has maintained his composure in the middle and essayed good cricketing strokes. As has been the case throughout his career, the spinners have borne the brunt of his nimble footwork.

 

The only problem in the Kolkata batting is that Gambhir has been the only one who has shown signs of consistency during this season. The other batsmen have played a good knock or two, gotten off to a few starts, but haven’t been able to maintain the tempo.
Here are the stats of the Kolkata batsmen:

 

Player

 

M

Runs

  Avg

Strike-Rate

50s

Gautam Gambhir

9

 365

45.62

143.70

 4

Jacques Kallis

9

 183

22.87

100.00

 0

Manoj Tiwary

9

 149

24.83

104.92

 1

Manvinder Bisla

5

 123

24.60

111.81

 0

Debabrata Das

8

   85

42.50

146.55

 0

Brendon McCullum

6

   81

13.50

97.59

 0

Yusuf Pathan

9

   48

  6.85

96.00

 0

 

As is evident from this table, with the exception of Gambhir none of the Kolkata batsmen have got going. The second highest run-scorer i.e. Kallis has scored only about half the run amassed by Gambhir. Pathan and McCullum haven’t been their dominant self and are struggling with form. Although, McCullum scored 43 the other day, he isn’t back to his best. The most worrying aspect:  the strike-rates of some of these players. There is a huge gulf between the strike rate of Gambhir and Das on one side and the rest on the other. Kallis and Tiwary in particular need to score at a much faster rate considering the fact that they bat at the top.
Bowling has been the biggest strength

 

While Gambhir has been the biggest trump-card with the bat, the new West Indian sensation Sunil Narine has been the key to their bowling success. Unlike Gambhir, Narine has had consistent support from the other end as the Kolkata bowlers have maintained the pressure on the opposing batsmen. If one goes through Kolkata’s bowling records for the ongoing season, one would find that their economy-rates have been brilliant.
Here are the bowling records for this season:

 

Player

 

M

Wkts

Avg

Economy rate

Sunil Narine

7

  12

12.91

   5.53

Rajat Bhatia

9

   7

29.85

   7.16

Jacques Kallis

9

   7

30.28

   7.31

Laxmipathy Balaji

4

   7

12.42

   5.43

Shakib Al Hasan

3

   6

10.66

   5.81

Brett Lee

7

   6

29.00

   6.69

 

Narine has been a revelation as the opposing batsmen have found it difficult to pick him. At the end of the auction, some may have criticised Kolkata for paying for a rookie learning the ropes of international cricket. All those critics have been made to eat their words as Narine is proving his worth with the fantastic performances.

 

The other bowlers may not have picked up as many wickets as him, but have been brilliant with their economy rates. Throughout the innings, they maintain the pressure on the batsmen – something that magnifies during Narine’s four overs.

 

Kolkata’s tight bowling was at its best against Bangalore at Kolkata. They managed to keep Chris Gayle –T20 cricket’s most feared batsman – to a run-a-ball for most of innings and by the time he started attacking, it was too little too late. Even in the game against Chennai, they did a brilliant job to restrict them to 139. Chennai’s power hitters had no chance of dominating the Kolkata attack that bowled in the right channels.

 

While the world heaps praises on Narine, Kallis and Lee’s role mustn’t be forgotten. Lee has done what he does best – run in and bowl fast. Kallis in particular has been brilliant and is bowling with new found energy and vigour. His recent spells have invoked memories of the past when South Africa used to bring him on early in the innings to dent the opposition.

 

Due to the presence of a number of all-rounders, Kolkata have great depth in their line-up. In fact, quality players like Shakib and Ryan ten Doeschate are not able to break into the eleven on a consistent basis and it reflects the strength of Kolkata’s resources. Even when some of these players have played, they have responded brilliantly – Shakib and Balaji being the cases in point.

 

The stats reflect that the bowlers have been Kolkata’s biggest strength along with Gambhir. On current form, they should make it through to the play-offs without much trouble, but if they want to go a step further, the batsmen have to rise to the occasion and support Gambhir.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)