Knight Riders need a reshuffle
Where are Kolkata Knight Riders going wrong? They do not seem to be playing particularly poorly yet today's loss was their third on the trot after a close come-from-behind win against Auckland. Their batsmen have scored more runs than the previous game on every occasion in the tournament without really imposing themselves on the opposition. Their bowlers has built pressure only for a costly over here and there to take the game away in the end. There are no glaring issues but the margin for error is minuscule in this compressed format and small errors get magnified.
Jacques Kallis, Gautam Gambhir (Shreevats Goswami earlier) and Manoj Tiwary - with career strike-rates of 113.65, 121.18 and 117.67 - are batsmen who like to take their time to get going, even in Twenty20s. At the moment, they come one after the other in the batting order. It leaves Yusuf Pathan and Ryan ten Doeschate with too much to do.
ten Doeschate, who strikes above 130, has clearly been under-used. Today, he came in at No.7 with the asking rate touching an improbable 15. He did showcase his ability with a 16-ball 32 but that had no impact apart from reducing the margin of defeat. How much would a similar innings have helped Kolkata had it come earlier in the chase? Instead Shakib Al Hasan, who strikes at 105.96, was sent in at No.3.
While Gambhir has the class and Kallis is the anchor of the line-up, Tiwary has struggled to accelerate in the middle stages against bowling attacks of a standard slightly higher than those he faces in the IPL. There is a clear case for shuffling the batting order. If the Knight Riders feel that Yusuf's raw power is required at the death, at least ten Doeschate's calibre demands that he be moved a couple of places higher. Gambhir admitted that with the benefit of hindsight, he could have done that.
"You are always wiser after the event," Gambhir said. "The way he was hitting the ball, I could have sent him up the order. But we need someone to finish games as well. It's about the team. Wherever the support staff and the team management think he is going to contribute the maximum, we are going to use him at that number."
ten Doeschate also has 60 wickets with his medium-pace at an economy rate just under eight but he hasn't bowled a single delivery in this tournament. The Knight Riders have reasoned that the pitch in Hyderabad was more conducive to spin but it was a Yusuf over in both losses in the main tournament that turned the momentum firmly against them. While Yusuf is a useful bowler at times, there can be no harm in giving ten Doeschate a go as well, especially given that the second seamer has leaked runs throughout.
Gambhir is an extremely proud competitor and he knows that the Knight Riders sorely need a win with the losses having put them on the brink of elimination. "When you lose, you haven't done things right. Till the time you don't win, you are not doing well. When I walk onto the field, it's about winning. It is not about playing good cricket. You must have heard that saying, 'you don't need to think about the result, you need to think about the process'. But for me, when you are playing competitive sport, it is about winning. People can say that we are not playing that badly, but we are not crossing the line."
The Knight Riders run into familiar opposition in the Royal Challengers Bangalore next, but could do with a fresh approach which takes a break from what is not broken, but has just not worked so far.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo