In this series, we compile all-time XIs for each IPL team. The rules are simple: the player has to have played at least 20 matches for the franchise (across the IPL and the Champions League T20); one player is eligible for selection in multiple franchises if he so merits, and you can pick only four overseas players.
Kolkata Knight Riders
If you had said in 2009 - amid the "multiple captains" theory propagated by John Buchanan and the Fake IPL player shenanigans - that Kolkata Knight Riders would be the third most successful IPL side in five years' time, your opinions would have been socially distanced from all IPL conversation. But the mega-auction in 2011 proved to be the catalyst for the Knight Riders' turnaround and they have consistently been a top team in the last nine years, with two titles and six play-off appearances. KKR revamped totally, on the field and off it, from 2011 onwards, and their scouting system led to the acquisitions of T20 diamonds like Sunil Narine and Andre Russell, while intelligent spending in most auctions allowed them to build strong squads, shaking off the nightmares of the first three years.
Several players were slotted in without any need for discussion. Russell and Narine were the first two names on the sheet, while Chris Lynn made a compelling case to be the third overseas pick. The likes of Robin Uthappa, Dinesh Karthik and Yusuf Pathan were straightforward selections too, the weight of performances speaking for themselves.
There were two significant debates. The first one centred around the fourth overseas pick. We narrowed it down to Jacques Kallis and Shakib Al Hasan. In favour of Kallis were the facts that he lent a certain comforting solidity to the batting and could be relied on for some valuable overs too. He wouldn't bowl "hit-me" balls regularly, and while he couldn't be a strike bowler, he did chip in with wickets as a supporting act. What went against him was the problem of where he would fit in in the batting line-up. In T20 cricket, Kallis has been his most effective in the top order, but the Knight Riders had a top order that already had Uthappa, Lynn and, potentially, Narine - without even having gotten to Gautam Gambhir yet. Did that make Shakib a better option? He could bat lower down, where there was a greater need for a batsman. His bowling returns were almost identical to Kallis, and his batting strike rate (125.98 to 108.31) was much better. Eventually, Kallis won out because he could be used as a floater. If this team ever finds itself at 25 for 3, they will need Kallis there. If they are 80 for 2, it would make more sense to send the likes of Russell and Karthik above Shakib anyway. In addition, Kallis has played a few match-winning batting hands for KKR. Finally, Kallis has played 70 matches for KKR and Shakib 49.
Perhaps incredibly enough, there was some debate about whether Gambhir would make it too. Gambhir was the captain who led them to two titles and under whom KKR's turnaround began, so it seems unthinkable to leave him out. But with a potential top three of Narine, Lynn and Uthappa, did it make more sense to go for someone like Suryakumar Yadav? But our debate didn't last very long - he's in and he's the captain. Which means Narine might bat lower down the order, or not, depending on team tactics for the day.
The bowling picks might surprise some, but there less so if you look at the stats. Between L Balaji and Umesh Yadav, we went for Balaji's much greater control (economy of 7.62 v 8.67) at a better average (25.90 to 29.91). And Balaji's performance during KKR's first title win in 2012 seals his spot further. He took 18 wickets in 12 games at an economy rate of 6.60. Rajat Bhatia and Iqbal Abdulla were the silent warriors of KKR, slipping in quiet over after quiet over, while offering a more robust tail with the bat. Abdulla's economy rate overall for KKR is an astounding 6.65. Among those who have bowled 100 or more overs for the franchise, only Narine is ahead and not by much (6.56). Back when the Eden Gardens pitch was a sticky, slow surface, Abdulla and Bhatia applied the choke for opposition teams quite spectacularly.