Feature

Kolkata Knight Riders bank on Iyer power

They also have an immensely strong bowling attack, but they might be lacking in local batting talent

Himanshu Agrawal
23-Mar-2022
Kolkata Knight Riders will look to Venkatesh Iyer once again to give them fast starts with the bat  •  BCCI

Kolkata Knight Riders will look to Venkatesh Iyer once again to give them fast starts with the bat  •  BCCI

Where they finished in 2021

Runners-up to Chennai Super Kings. When the IPL was postponed midway through the season last year, Kolkata Knight Riders were placed seventh after just two wins from seven matches, but by the time the league stage ended in the UAE, they were second on the points table.

Potential first XI

1 Venkatesh Iyer, 2 Aaron Finch, 3 Shreyas Iyer (capt), 4 Nitish Rana, 5 Sheldon Jackson/B Indrajith (wk), 6 Andre Russell, 7 Sunil Narine, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Shivam Mavi, 10 Umesh Yadav, 11 Varun Chakravarthy

Player Availability

Alex Hales pulling out of the IPL citing bubble fatigue opened a door for Australia's limited-overs captain Aaron Finch. However, with Australia's white-ball series against Pakistan to conclude on April 5, Finch will not be available for the first handful of games. Pat Cummins, meanwhile, is understood to fly back to Australia after the Pakistan Test series to attend Shane Warne's memorial on March 30. He will join the side after serving the mandatory three-day quarantine and should be available for their fourth match, on April 6.*
Like his other New Zealand team-mates, pace bowler Tim Southee will be available for the tournament despite his country playing Netherlands in a white-ball series at home. However, with New Zealand set to tour England for three Tests in early June, Southee may have to miss the playoffs and the final should Knight Riders make it that far.

Batting

Knight Riders have two in-form batters to bank on: Venkatesh Iyer, who played a big hand in their turnaround last season, and Shreyas Iyer, who enters this IPL with a bagful of recent runs.
Venkatesh cracked 370 runs in the UAE last time, and followed it up with 155 at a strike rate of 140 in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. Although he has played as a finisher for India since, Knight Riders will likely prefer him at the top of the order, taking advantage of powerplay restrictions.
Shreyas has been riding a tremendous wave: after establishing himself in India's limited-overs sides, he was picked by Knight Riders for INR 12.25 crore (USD 1.6 million approx), making him the highest-paid pure batter to come out of the auction. Then the franchise named him captain, which seemed to agree with him quite well given he reeled off three successive unbeaten half-centuries against Sri Lanka in a Player-of-the-Series performance.
Shreyas has batted No. 3 in 41 of his 87 innings in IPL, but he can be used at No. 4 too if, in addition to Venkatesh, Knight Riders include both Ajinkya Rahane and Finch.
Rahane is at his best when the ball comes onto the bat. That means he needs to bat in the top three. But even then, he strikes at only 120.13. Knight Riders are going to have to make do with that because they don't really have a lot of established local batting talent. There's Anukul Roy, who could be utilised along with Andre Russell, as finisher, and B Indrajith, who for all his skill in the longer formats last played a T20 in 2019.

Bowling

What Knight Riders lack with the bat, they make up with the ball. With three mystery spinners in Sunil Narine, Varun Chakravarthy and Ramesh Kumar, and the pace of Umesh Yadav, Shivam Mavi, Cummins and Southee, they have a veritable bowling armoury to call upon. Add to that the all-round options provided by Russell and Mohammad Nabi, plus the useful medium pace of Venkatesh, and they become the envy of the whole tournament.
Narine and Chakravarthy's economy rates of 5.91 and 6.34 respectively in the powerplay, plus their ability to turn the ball both ways, make them a captain's dream.
However, Ramesh is the only left-arm option they have in their entire roster. Nicknamed "left-handed Narine", the 23-year old is more of a wristspinner and although he has raw talent he still hasn't played any cricket at a competitive level.

Young players to watch out for

A product of the tennis-ball circuit, Ramesh could turn out to be one of the finds of the season. Despite a late initiation to playing with an actual cricket ball, he became an integral part of the Moga district team and one of the best young bowlers in Punjab.
Among the batters, the 23-year old Roy oozes promise. He has batted at Nos. 6 and 7 for all but two of his 24 T20 innings thus far, and strikes at 141 overall. A useful understudy, just in case Russell breaks down again. Plus, being a left-hander, he can also help his side mix things up in the batting order.
Roy enters the IPL on the back a 59 and 153 against Nagaland in the Ranji Trophy pre-quarter-final, and although they came in a format altogether different and against an attack lacking bite, Knight Riders will hope he can carry that confidence into the IPL.

Coaching staff

Brendon McCullum (head coach), Abhishek Nayar (assistant coach), B Arun (bowling coach), Omkar Salvi (assistant bowling coach) and James Foster (fielding coach)

Poll question

5.45pm GMT, Mar 24 The availability dates for Finch and Cummins were updated.

Himanshu Agrawal is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo