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Team review: Poor outings for Sunil Narine, Andre Russell hurt Kolkata Knight Riders

Varun and Morgan were the only two bright spots in a season to forget for the two-time champions

Sreshth Shah
Sreshth Shah
Where did they finish?
With 14 points, the Kolkata Knight Riders had the same number of points as the teams that finished third and fourth, but a net run-rate of -0.214 consigned them to the fifth place for the second season in a row.
What went right?
Two key purchases at the previous auction came good for the Knight Riders.
One was Varun Chakravarthy, the mystery spinner from Tamil Nadu, who found enough success to keep India international Kuldeep Yadav on the bench for most of the season. He took the most wickets (17) for the team, had the best economy rate (6.84), and also earned IPL 2020's best bowling figures (for the group stage), 5 for 20 against the Delhi Capitals.
The other was Eoin Morgan. As a middle-order batsman, who struck 418 runs in 14 innings at an average of 41.80. He also hit the most sixes (24) for the team. Morgan provided the impetus in the death overs, and his cameos helped the team get scores they may not have got otherwise. As a captain - a role he took on after seven games - he could not take the Knight Riders into the playoffs, but the brief stint this season gives the team an astute and experienced captaincy option for IPL 2021.
What went wrong?
Plenty went wrong for the Knight Riders, and their season ranking of fifth perhaps flatters them.
Using Sunil Narine as an opener did not work this season. His exclusion from the XI - after he was warned for a suspect action - derailed the team balance too.
The lack of full fitness from Andre Russell, their talismanic allrounder and IPL 2019 MVP, sidelined him for long periods. When he was in the team, he averaged only 13 in nine innings although he did shine as a death-overs bowler in the first half of the season when his body allowed him to bowl.
Dinesh Karthik's form as batsman was worrying too. He batted in every position between Nos. 3 and 6 but none of it seemed to work out for him - he averaged 14.08 in 14 innings and bagged three ducks. He had one standout innings - in the win against Kings XI Punjab - when he made 29-ball 58 walking in at No. 5. The other issue that came with Karthik's poor batting form was his decision to step away from being captain in the middle of the season to "focus on his batting", though the Knight Riders were fourth on the table at that point.
Key numbers
  • Kuldeep Yadav took just one wicket in five matches, of which he was not given the ball in one. He finished the tournament with a bowling average of 92.0 and a strike rate of 72.00.
  • Shubman Gill top-scored for the franchise with 440 runs, with three fifties, at an average of 33.84. At the end of the league stage, he was the season's eighth-highest run-getter and the only Knight Riders player in the top ten.
  • Under Karthik, the Knight Riders won four of their seven games. Under Morgan, they won three of the remaining seven.
  • Chakravarthy's 17 wickets were the second-most among Indian spinners at the end of the league stage. .
  • Star performers
    Chakravarthy's success this season earned him a call-up to India's T20I squad that will play Australia later this month. The many variations that he is known to bowl were on display, and batsmen did not find it easy to take him on. With Narine missing important games in the middle of the tournament, it was Varun who carried the Knight Riders' spin-bowling baton and did it exceedingly well. Six years ago cricket was not in his plans and three years ago he was working in an architecture firm. And by the time the year ends, the 29-year-old could very well be an India player.
    What needs immediate fixing?
    The Knight Riders need to ensure they stick by the roles assigned to their players. They used Gill, Rahul Tripathi, Tom Banton, Nitish Rana and Narine as their openers. Morgan's batting ability was left underutilised because the team kept him as a finisher, and as the in-form batsman, he faced fewer balls than he could have.
    The other problem, one that still needs fixing, is the fast bowling. While Pat Cummins did bring some heat in the back end of the league stage, he genuinely struggled in the first few games. Lockie Ferguson was brought into the XI in their ninth game of the season instantly impressed. And the four Indian pacers Sandeep Warrier, Prasidh Krishna, Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi, despite having all the goods and the skills, need to show more consistency.
    The Knight Riders will probably look to rope in an experienced Indian quick in case there's a mega auction before the next season. The squad perhaps also needs an overall revamp, even if it means releasing some big overseas players.

    Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo