Head coach full of praise for Venkatesh Iyer and the rest of the young Indians in his top order despite final defeat
Under Sourav Ganguly and then Brendon McCullum, the Knight Riders’ first three years were forgettable. They had the likes of Ricky Ponting, Chris Gayle and (briefly) Shoaib Akhtar alongside promising young Indian bowlers like Ishant Sharma and Iqbal Abdulla, but the highest they finished in the first three seasons was sixth.
Following the appointment of Gautam Gambhir as captain ahead of the fourth season, 2011, KKR made their first playoffs that year. Yusuf Pathan also became a key member, along with Jacques Kallis. In 2012, KKR won their first IPL, thanks in part to new signings Sunil Narine and Robin Uthappa. Boosted by additions Manish Pandey, Suryakumar Yadav, Piyush Chawla and Andre Russell, they won the title in 2014 again. The next three years were full of promise but failed to earn KKR another title. Gambhir’s era ended when he wasn’t retained ahead of the 2018 auction.
Dinesh Karthik was handed the reins in 2018. A young squad was built around him, Narine and Russell, with an eye on the future. In Karthik's debut season as captain, KKR finished in third place. Midway through the 2020 IPL, he stepped down, handing the reins to Eoin Morgan, who led them to fifth that season.
KKR’s two titles in three years remain their zenith. The first win, in 2012, was a landmark because of how poorly the team had fared in the first four seasons. The win in 2014, when they chased the highest-ever IPL final total, against the Kings XI Punjab, cemented that year’s squad as legends forever.
The dream of a fairy tale under Ganguly did come true, and there was conflict between him and coach John Buchanan, whose multiple-captains strategy drew laughs, especially after the team’s fortunes sank further. The omission of Ganguly ahead of 2011 threatened to ruin Kolkata’s love for KKR, and the ruckus over the Fake IPL player (an anonymous blogger who appeared to have inside information) in the early years made them the butt of jokes as well.
Brendon McCullum’s 158 not out in the tournament opener made it seem like KKR were the team to beat in the new league. But then, four straight losses put that start to waste and, despite two Player-of-the-Match performances from Ganguly and a demolition of the Delhi Daredevils by Akhtar, the team finished with three losses at the end of the season.
A Super-Over loss in their third game began a string of eight defeats in a row that broke KKR’s back. After 12 games, they had won just one solitary match, and if it wasn’t for their two wins in their last two games, they might have had the worst season of any team in the history of franchise cricket.
Ganguly was retained as captain despite two poor seasons, and he scored 493 runs, but the rest of the team did not hit a winning rhythm. They lost a heap of games in the first half of the tournament and though they tied on 14 points with the teams in third, fourth and fifth places, their poor net run rate cost them a playoff spot. Ganguly was dropped ahead of the next auction.
A new-look KKR set out to change the team’s fortunes, and they qualified for the playoffs for the first time. KKR’s faith in the Indian talent they had bought along with new captain Gambhir was rewarded, with spinner Abdulla, fast bowler L Balaji, and middle-order batsmen Pathan and Manoj Tiwary producing match-winning performances. They lost to the Mumbai Indians in the eliminator.
KKR’s first title came under Gambhir and new coach Trevor Bayliss, who replaced Dav Whatmore. Two losses to begin, then two wins, a loss, six straight victories, two losses, and finally two wins, meant they finished the league stage second. In the final, Manvinder Bisla’s 89 helped KKR chase a tricky 191.
A forgettable season, sandwiched between two superb years. Narine Narine topped the KKR bowling charts this year and the next, and Gambhir was flawless with the bat, but they couldn’t extract contributions from the others. Kallis, although good, was not consistent, and KKR lost ten of their 16 league games, finishing seventh out of nine.
Having lost five of their first seven games, KKR seemed destined for an early exit, but a streak of nine wins in a row handed them a second title. Gambhir and Uthappa’s partnerships set KKR up for breezy finishes, which Pathan usually provided. Kuldeep Yadav and Kallis put in regular contributions too, and in the final, Pandey’s 94 helped KKR chase 200 for the title.
Andre Russell struck three fifties but the season belonged to KKR’s bowlers. Morne Morkel handed KKR a rare win over Mumbai, Umesh Yadav played match-winner twice, and Piyush Chawla’s four-wicket haul dismantled the Delhi Daredevils. KKR had to win one of their last two league games to qualify, but they faltered in both, losing to Mumbai and the Royals.
Russell’s domination continued: he earned three Player-of-the-Match awards, and Pathan two as KKR qualified for the playoffs. There, they were knocked out in the eliminator by the Sunrisers. It was also the first season where Jacques Kallis was coach, a relationship that would last three years.
Lynn’s and Narine’s big-hitting at the top, followed by accumulative performances from Gambhir and Uthappa, put KKR on course for a third IPL title when they won seven of their first nine games, but their performances tapered away as the season progressed. They qualified for the playoffs but were knocked out in the qualifier, after being bowled out for 107. (Russell was not available - he was serving a ban.)
KKR batted aggressively, using the power of Lynn, Narine and Russell to post big totals to overcome the inexperience of their fast bowling. Despite batting low, Karthik was the team’s highest scorer, with 498 runs. KKR beat the Rajasthan Royals in the eliminator, but fell one step short of the final, losing to runners-up the Sunrisers Hyderabad.
They won four of their first five games, and then lost six on the trot. When KKR won, it was often thanks to Russell’s heroics with the bat, which earned him four Player-of-the-Match awards. Shubman Gill’s promotion from finisher to opener worked well, and had they won their final game against the Mumbai Indians, KKR would have qualified for the playoffs.
Their position on the points table flattered KKR in a tight season where they failed to build any momentum. Narine and Russell were absent for large periods, and under new captain Morgan - who took over after seven games - they lost more games than they won. KKR, however, discovered a new gem in mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy.
KKR’s all-time highest scorer, with 3345 runs, Gambhir made 30 fifties in 122 matches, all of which he captained in. Gambhir’s aggressive leadership drew praise, and he led KKR to two IPL titles. He started out batting as an opener but slipped into the middle order to accommodate hard-hitting batsmen.Robin Uthappa
For long, Uthappa was the bedrock in the middle order around whom KKR’s big-hitters played. His 17 half-centuries for the side usually led to victories. In his prime, Uthappa’s was the wicket opposition teams looked to get. In KKR’s IPL-winning 2014 season, he scored 40 or more eight matches in a row, a record he still holds.Yusuf Pathan
Pathan was already an IPL winner at the Rajasthan Royals when he came to KKR, and he brought the winning mentality with him, playing crucial roles in the side’s two title wins. His cameos as a finisher helped KKR cross the line on many occasions, and his 30 wickets in 56 innings often broke partnerships.Andre Russell
The IPL’s biggest overseas superstar, Russell is the Knight Riders’ third-highest wicket-taker, with a strike rate of under 18, but it is his performances with the bat that are truly stunning. His 1500-plus runs have come at a strike rate of over 180, and he is the only KKR batsman to have struck 100 sixes.Sunil Narine
KKR’s most successful bowler by far, mystery spinner Narine has bowled in the powerplay, middle overs, and at the death. Though he has conceded a few more runs than before in the last four years after he remodelled his action, he remains an economical bowler who also bats as a pinch-hitter.