Kolkata Knight Riders, KKR, are in the playoff of IPL 2021. Quite unbelievable! If one were to directly tune in now after the end of the first phase of this IPL, they would be left totally gobsmacked at one of the four teams that have qualified.
Almost everyone would have handpicked Delhi Capitals, Chennai Super Kings and Royal Challengers Bangalore to have reached the business end of the razmataz. KKR – not quite! After seven games, the Kolkata franchise was languishing with only two wins and four points. They seemed like a team that had checked out midway. And then the entire IPL entourage quite literally had to check out courtesy of a harsh reality.
The truth of the points table, and the table hardly ever lies, was that three teams had run away leaving slow starters Mumbai Indians to perform their familiar Houdini act and join the playoff party. But Mumbai Indians refused to enter the party, waiting at the entry point till the dance floor was filled to capacity.
And the direct beneficiary was KKR, who themselves played the best cricket of the second phase. The Eoin Morgan led team won five out of the seven games, losing narrowly off the last ball to CSK and to Punjab Kings courtesy of a drop catch that popped out of Rahul Tripathi’s palms for a six with three balls to spare.
Thus, KKR have become a very dangerous side, making the speedy comeback as though they are a breakless fast car driving on a highway that has zero speed breakers, no turns and infinite speed limit. And not solely momentum, KKR also have a clear thought process as to how they want to play their cricket, which is aided by a bowling unit tailored for the pitches being doled out.
Hence, here are three reasons why KKR are best placed to win IPL 2021.
KKR have momentum in IPL 2021
Momentum is as underrated as overrated in sport. The reason being its unquantifiable nature. One never really knows how much it can be valued at. Momentum can very closely be related to teams peaking at the right time. It happens across sport and the IPL has seen the same on many an occasion. Mumbai Indians have won IPLs in that manner and so have CSK.
KKR themselves went on a hot streak in 2014, winning nine games on the bounce to hold aloft their second IPL trophy at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. There are many similarities between the two IPLs. Like 2014, this season has been shared between India and the UAE, albeit in reverse order. And KKR have made a similar comeback after a disastrous early season start.
This season’s comeback has seen KKR beat two of the three teams above them in the table heading into the crunch leg. KKR convincingly wrestled down both, RCB and Delhi Capitals. Both teams quite helplessly submitted to KKR’s choke. CSK required a Ravindra Jadeja heroics in the penultimate over to almost escape to victory against the Knight Riders.
Thus, while KKR have visible chinks – perhaps more gaping than their counterparts – in their armour, their momentum and the wave of psychological high they are riding makes them a very plausible candidate for the podium finish.
KKR have been liberated by the process
We often find processes burdensome. The structure and system of any assignment that requires creative expression seems to be the shackle that holds us down. For KKR too, that seemed the strange reality in the first phase. It looked extremely awkward, and one would almost feel sorry for the team. Eoin Morgan as captain and Brendon McCullum as coach, the two beacons of freedom and unabashed expression in cricket, helming a team that look scared to hit a ball in anger. It indeed was a sorry sight.
However, with one inspired change at the top, the team has completely unchained itself. An unseen, unheard Masters in Business Administration graduate walked out with India’s next big thing Shubman Gill and on first viewing, liberated KKR by following the process laid down. The process being – enjoy your cricket and hit every ball. Simple enough.
Venky Iyer, like a good student, did what he was told and everyone else followed suit as KKR looked like a team moulded in the image of captain and coach. The top order have started making quick contributions. Shubman Gill looks completely transformed and Rahul Tripathi has found consistency. Fuelled by contributions from Nitish Rana and even the odd cameo from Sunil Narine, the former KKR captain Dinesh Karthik has found himself in his comfortable finishing job, making things fall into place for the purple brigade.
Bowlers suited to the tired pitches
The pitches in UAE have hardly been an advertisement for T20 cricket. Most of them have challenged the batsmen with their slowness and sluggish bounce. Stroke making has been particularly difficult and runs have been at a premium.
And that has felt like a throwback for KKR, to the Eden Garden pitches of yore when they won two IPL trophies in three years. So, cue up the Narines and Chakravarthys and even the part time of Venky Iyer. Sprinkle in some Shakib Al Hasan, an artist of precision operating on slow pitch, for good measure. Spice that mix up with the raw pace of Lockie Ferguson who can masquerade the fire with some clever changes of pace.
The KKR bowling attack has also been timely bolstered by the good performances of third choice Indian seamer Shivam Mavi. Gill’s U-19 World Cup winning teammate came in after both, Prasidh Krishna and Sandeep Warrirer failed to impress. He has been particularly impressive in the last two games, and it really is heartwarming to see a youngster make a solid comeback after being tonked for six boundaries in a single over in the first phase.
Thus, KKR now possess good variety. Narine and now India international Varun Chakravarthy are effective on these slow wickets with their quick mystery spin, as they become difficult to line up. Shakib, Andre Russell’s replacement, is a veteran of slow wickets having grown up in Bangladesh’s similar styled pitches. And Ferguson has given KKR the pace to hurry batsmen. Given the very quickness of his normal deliveries, the slower deliveries of his become even more difficult to pick.
Even the likes of Nitish Rana and Iyer have put their hands up when the captain has called for them. Iyer, particularly, has impressed with his slower balls and near perfect execution of Yorkers!
And so, Kolkata have somehow stumbled upon a good bowling combination, which paired with fearless batting and the unquantifiable psychological boost of momentum makes them best placed to win IPL 2021.
No pressure then!