Over the nine seasons of the IPL, the Kolkata Knight Riders have been one of the most consistent sides in the tournament. After failing to progress out of the group stages for the first three seasons, the Knight Riders have reached the knockouts stages four times in the last six seasons. This included two IPL titles, which they won in 2012 and 2014. After a few important purchases in the auction, the Kolkata Knight Riders are in a great position to challenge for the title again.
It was a relatively successful campaign for the Knight Riders last season, as they managed to qualify for the knockout stages, after finishing fourth. However, they were unable to progress further than this as they failed to chase down the Sunrisers Hyderabad total in the eliminator. Captain Gautam Gambhir led from the front last season, as he scored 501 runs, the most for the Knight Riders. He was supported by his opening partner, Robin Uthappa, who contributed a solid 394 runs, which included three fifties. Unfortunately for the Kolkata Knight Riders, they will be without their leading wicket taker Andre Russell this season. Last year Russell took 15 wickets at an average of under 20, as well as contributing with the bat. However, Russell has been banned from playing cricket for a year, after he failed to appear for a routine drugs test. The Kolkata Knight Riders took several steps to ensure that they won’t miss him too much, as shown by their big name purchases in the IPL Auction.
The Kolkata Knight Riders released nine players before the IPL Auction, of which six were overseas players. They released Morne Morkel, due to injury, Brad Hogg, Jason Holder and several other prominent players. As a result, their bowling department looked very weak and needed strengthening heading into the season. Kolkata rectified this by signing Trent Boult, Nathan Coulter-Nile and England all-rounder Chris Woakes. Boult was their most expensive signing, as he fetched 5 crore after entering at a base price of just 1.5 crore. This was slightly surprising, as Boult only played one IPL match for the Sunrisers last year. However, his recent international performances have shown just how talented a player he is.
In terms of their batting, they retained the entirety of their top order meaning it wasn’t necessary to purchase too many more batsmen. Yet, the Knight Riders decided to buy Darren Bravo, a West Indian batsman, at base price in the third round of bidding. This was an interesting signing, as Bravo is known not to be a big-hitter of the ball, but mainly a slow-scoring Test specialist. Chances are that he won’t feature regularly in the Knight Riders starting XI, but it will be interesting to see how he is used throughout the season. As well as Bravo, the Kolkata Knight Riders signed fellow West Indian Rovman Powell, a young upcoming batsman. Powell has only represented the West Indies internationally five times, but he has a strong domestic record. It will be a great experience for the 23 year old, but his role throughout the season is likely to be limited.
Unlike most other sides in the competition, the entirety of the Kolkata Knight Riders top order is made up of Indian players. Their opening partnership of Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa is one of the most experienced in the competition, with both sides having played internationally on numerous occasions. These two players have a great chemistry together and last season they both looked in great touch. This will definitely be the first-choice opening partnership for the Knight Riders and caused many sides trouble last season.
Their middle order has the perfect balance of youth and experience, with Manish Pandey, Yusuf Pathan and Suryakumar Yadav set to make up the bulk of their batting. While Pandey and Yadav are both relatively young batsmen, Pathan, who is now 34, has a wealth of experience. This is useful, as if this top order does collapse, the Kolkata Knight Riders can rely on Pathan to steady the ship in tough conditions. Pandey has had a good run in the India limited overs side recently, playing in the T20 series against England. His domestic form has not been consistent though, as he most recently scored 104 for India B, but this was his first score above fifty for six games. The key to a successful IPL campaign is having a consistent batting unit and this will be a focal point heading into the series.
With the release of the majority of the overseas fast bowlers, this year it is harder to predict what bowling attack the Kolkata Knight Riders will opt for. The signing of Chris Woakes seemed to be a direct replacement for Andre Russell, so it will be likely that the Englishman will take the new ball. However, both Trent Boult and Umesh Yadav will also be in contention for opening. While Yadav has been inconsistent in the past, his frequent loose deliveries making him an expensive bowler, his recent form for India has been great. He has bowled accurately for long spells and has picked up wickets on relatively flat pitches. With this in mind, the Knight Riders will be strongly considering the possibility of opening with Yadav and Woakes, with Boult bowling first change.
Due to the array of all-rounders in their side, Kolkata will be able to play two specialist spinners in the form of Kuldeep Yadav and Sunil Narine. Kuldeep recently earned a call-up to the India Test side and was selected to play in the fourth, deciding Test match against Australia. The chinaman bowler made an instant impact, picking up four wickets in the first innings and he constantly looked a threat. He received some tips from Shane Warne and learnt to bowl a flipper, which is what he used to claim the wicket of David Warner. On pitches which will suit him, Kuldeep will be a pertinent threat this season and is one to watch.
Narine is an equally threatening spinner, but he has certainly been less successful after he remodelled his action after claims he was throwing the ball. The West Indian still looked dangerous in the Big Bash League, in which he represented the Melbourne Renegades. He produced one remarkable spell against the Hobart Hurricanes, in which he took three quick wickets. Narine also made the headlines when he was sent out to open the batting as a pinch hitter in one of the matches. Admittedly, he wasn’t that successful, but his batting is merely a bonus in light of his bowling. These two spinners will also be joined by Bangladeshi all-rounder Shakib Al-Hasan who will contribute some overs throughout the tournament.
The Kolkata Knight Riders are in a very strong position heading into the tournament, and they will be one of the favourites. They have great depth in their squad, with lots of options in case players are out of form. It will be a huge shock if the Knight Riders don’t make it out of the group stages and they will be hoping to go one step further than last year.
- Gautam Gambhir (C)
- Robin Uthappa (wk)
- Manish Pandey
- Yusuf Pathan
- Suryakumar Yadav
- Shakib Al-Hasan
- Chris Woakes
- Kuldeep Yadav
- Trent Boult
- Sunil Narine
- Umesh Yadav