A stoic Dinesh Karthik said it was unfair to say Kolkata Knight Riders are over-dependent on Andre Russell after his side lost their fifth straight game, effectively making all of their last four games must-wins if they want to qualify for the playoffs.
Knight Riders were 124 for 5 against Sunrisers Hyderabad when Russell joined Chris Lynn with 4.3 overs left in the innings. But, Lynn fell next over, leaving Russell in the company of the lower order. Although he's done that task many times for Knight Riders, including specifically lifting them from being five down for much lower scores, Russell couldn't keep his golden form running into Sunday and fell for a nine-ball 15.
"I think that's unfair to say," Karthik said after the match. "Today I think 160 was par if we'd bowled well. Even though Andre only got 15 runs today, the rest of them batted really well and brought us to a score that was defendable. But the fact that we didn't bowl as well, and the wicket got better under lights, and two good players came out all guns blazing made things look very easy."
On Friday, Russell had brought Knight Riders miraculously close to a win against Royal Challengers Bangalore after coming in with the asking rate at 16.53 and just over eight overs to go. His 65 off 25 had brought Knight Riders "two hits away" from victory - Russell's words and they came ahead of a cheeky little suggestion.
"I believe that [I should bat higher up the order]," Russell had said as he put a finger to his lips. "Honestly, you have to sometimes be flexible as a team. When you look at the make-up of our team, I don't mind going to bat at No. 4."
Arguably this season's most impactful player, Russell has come in with an average of 42 balls remaining every innings. Comparable to this are Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard's entry points - an average of 33 and 38 balls remaining respectively. But the fact that Pandya and Pollard play for the same team means Mumbai Indians can hedge their bets on their batting positions. Knight Riders, on the other hand, have often relied on brisk innings around Russell as he singlehandedly pulverises bowling attacks.
Karthik alluded to Russell's comments while saying the West Indian has made no complaints about his batting position. "He had about five overs to face. When he came in, there were 27 balls and we're looking to play him at a kind of slot where…I think he's the kind of player even if he had played 10 balls, he'd have made an impact. The key is that we play that well at the top of the order that we set it up for him. There's been no complaints from his side about the batting part of it. I think he's been happy with the place where he's going and he has a clear role in the team which he's trying to achieve every time he goes out to bat. "
Knight Riders are currently placed sixth and in the middle of a losing streak that forced them to drop franchise stalwarts such as Kuldeep Yadav and Robin Uthappa. Those big calls were made, Karthik said, because neither player had performed to the standards they had set themselves. But with four matches to go, and three of them against teams currently placed higher than them, they might just return to the XI in the next game.
"It's always part of the IPL," Karthik said. "Once you get on a run where you've lost a match it puts pressure on the next match. When you win, you can always find ways to win and when you lose, you sometimes find ways to lose. I think these are all the challenges a team always faces in a tournament like this.
"We've sat together and regrouped and things haven't gone exactly to plan. Having said that, I have faith in the players I have. I believe there are genuine match winners out there and we need to find ways to find a spark for ourselves and do something special for us. "