Poor away form costs Knight Riders
This season threatened to be an awkward one for Kolkata Knight Riders, the defending champions. Sunil Narine had led them two IPL titles in four seasons but was now stuck in a tug-of-war between the BCCI, the board's eyes fixed on his elbows, and his team. If one thought that Knight Riders were going to be a little circumspect in playing Narine, that did not happen.
With his wings clipped, Narine was not at his best. Bangladesh allrounder Shakib Al Hasan was not available either for a large part of the season. Knight Riders must have been flustered, but to their credit they never showed it on the field and other players chipped in with crucial contributions. Chinaman bowler Brad Hogg took the mantle of perplexing opposition batsmen in a few games, Piyush Chawla took a bundle of wickets, and Andre Russell enhanced his reputation as a hard-hitting allrounder.
Knight Riders rose to the top spot in the league with a hat-trick of home wins and victory in one of their last two games would have taken them through to the next stage. What hurt them in the end was their inability to close out away games. If they were asked to travel back in time and correct one mistake, it would surely be that last over at the Wankhede against Mumbai Indians.
Narine did make an impact in one of the games, taking 4 for 19 against Kings XI Punjab, but Knight Riders came close to losing points against the bottom dwellers of the league. Chasing 184, they were struggling at 83 for 4. Then a Russell onslaught took them close, but he too fell short. They hobbled, before a crucial 18 from Piyush Chawla helped them to a one-wicket win - the first-ever in the IPL.
It has to be their penultimate game against Mumbai. With 12 to get off the final over and a set Yusuf Pathan in the middle, Knight Riders were two hits away from a playoff spot. Even though Yusuf fell off the first ball, Chawla was there. A couple of good connections and the game was theirs. Chawla had hit the winning shot in the last IPL final; this time he just couldn't get bat on ball and Knight Riders fell five short.
Top of the class
Andre Russell's development would have heartened Knight Riders. From not being able to find a game last season to becoming the go-to man with bat and ball, Russell was a revelation. He showed serious hitting ability with the bat; his 326 runs came at a staggering strike rate of 192.89. What more, he was also their leading wicket-taker with 14 scalps.
Robin Uthappa was the leading run-getter for Knight Riders for the second consecutive season. But he had almost 300 runs fewer in his bag than last year. Uthappa's indifferent form at the top meant the middle order was always under pressure.
Tip for 2016
Spin has been Knight Riders' strength for a few seasons but it seems they will need an influx of fresh talent. Though they have backed Narine all through, at some stage they would want to think beyond him. The ageing Hogg won't be available forever either. They do have two young recruits in Kuldeep Yadav and KC Cariappa waiting in the wings, but both will need to be match ready next year. Knight Riders also need some reinforcements in their batting order, especially at No. 3 and 4.
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo