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New Dawn After Night: A Kolkata Knight Riders Post Auction & Pre-Season Review

Gautam Gambhir has led KKR to two titles in his 6 years as captain — can he do it again? (image from espncricinfo.com)

The Kolkata Knight Riders finished 2016 on a respectable note. They didn’t quite display the dominance that they displayed in either of their winning campaigns, but still exited with a very respectable 4th place, after losing the First Eliminator to the eventual champions Sunrisers Hyderabad.

There was no nagging flaw that kept KKR the whole time — their batting was robust, with the ever-consistent Robin Uthappa and Gautam Gambhir, and their bowling was in the able hands of Sunil Narine, Piyush Chawla, and Shakib Al Hassan. Andre Russell was a triple threat, with power-packed performances in all three departments. They were also heavily bolstered by Yusuf Pathan’s rich vein of form, as his 361 runs at 145.56 provided some valuable middle order solidity.

The only concern KKR would have had would be the instability of their overseas player combination. While Narine, Shakib and Russell kept their places with little worry, the fourth slot kept cycling between a batsman (Chris Lynn, Colin Munro), or a bowler (Morne Morkel, John Hastings, Brad Hogg). They never quite settled on a combination, and this situation was only further complicated when Andre Russell suffered an injury the twilight stages of KKR’s campaign.

Their intent to completely refurbish their overseas stocks became pretty evident as they released 6 overseas players – a joint highest with the Rising Pune Supergiants. Especially with Andre Russell’s ban meaning that he will not be a part of this edition of the tournament, they would have keenly hoped to pick up a strong overseas contingent at this auction:

KKR Auction Results - Image property of IPLgeek.com

It is fairly evident that, as expected, KKR went big for overseas players. Apart from the players they purchased, they were also the second highest bidders for Tymal Mills, who ended up with the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Yet, it would be ignorant to say that they didn’t get a decent chunk of what they needed.

Trent Boult will likely serve as the first-choice, and KKR will hope that he can provide a solid partner for Umesh Yadav, who has bowled some ripping spells for India in the test arena. This will also be Boult’s best shot at making a mark on the IPL — at SRH his opportunities were limited, and competition was always breathing down his neck. However, as mentioned, he will likely be the first-choice seamer for KKR this season, meaning that he will get more opportunities, as well as added responsibility.

Chris Woakes (who was a real bargain compared to his countryman Ben Stokes) will likely play the most important role of all for KKR: Andre Russell’s replacement. While his T20I numbers haven’t been the best, Woakes’ all-round shows have been of great value to England’s ODI squad, and he will be expected to play a similar role of frontline seamer cum low order hitter for KKR.

Chris Woakes (image from espncricinfo.com)

Chris Woakes will have the monumental task of filling Andre Russell’s shoes. (image from espncricinfo.com)

The rest of their picks serve as pretty solid backups: Rovman Powell was good for the Jamaica Tallawahs in the 2016 Caribbean Premier League, and his all-round abilities will come in handy if Woakes fails to perform. Nathan Coulter-Nile offers a backup seam option for Trent Boult, as well as a few runs lower down the order. Darren Bravo’s abilities will come in handy if Chris Lynn fails to fire, and Rishi Dhawan and Ishank Jaggi provide good Indian options as well.

Now, take a look at my playing XI dynamic:

KKR Playing XI Dynamic - Image Property of IPLgeek.com.

Note: This dynamic represents possible scenarios of my own deduction, and have no direct affiliation with the actual plans of the KKR team management.

As shown, their likely combination is to rely on their fairly consistent Indian batting, while clumping their overseas stocks in their bowling. This produces a combination fairly similar to that which won them the 2014 IPL, with the two bowlers and two all-rounders. Should the need arise to solidify their batting, however, they have Brisbane Heat’s superstar Chris Lynn on the ropes, along with West Indies’ Darren Bravo.

After his Big Bash heroics, Chris Lynn probably deserves another shot for KKR. Apart from a stellar show on debut, Lynn hasn’t really been able to make himself indispensable for the Knights, and the relative stability of their top order makes breaking in a difficult task. Yet, he is their first choice overseas batsman, and if their Indian bowling contingent steps up, there’s a chance they may be willing to give him a go ahead of one of their overseas bowling all-rounders. With Umesh and Kuldeep Yadav

Apart from his brilliance with the ball, Sunil Narine has also developed a panache for scoring quick runs lower down the order. In fact, he even opened the innings with Aaron Finch for the Melbourne Renegades during his BBL stint. Apart from his responsibility as KKR’s sole overseas spinner, if he can provide some runs lower down the order, it would give the Knights a valuable extra dimension of depth to their batting lineup.

If Umesh Yadav‘s test form is anything to go by, he will have a wonderful IPL 10. Bowling beautiful lines with his natural gift of express pace and swing, he played a crucial role in inciting Australia’s collapse in their second innings of the recently concluded 4th Test. If he can form a potent pace trio with Boult and Woakes in the 2017 season, it will be a season to remember for KKR fans.

The “other Yadav” Kuldeep Yadav also had a breakthrough in the recently concluded Border-Gavasker series vs. Australia, as he scythed through a defiant Australian batting lineup to claim a four-wicket haul on debut. He was in and out of the KKR setup last year, but with the release of Brad Hogg, he will be the sole chinaman bowler in the team. He will be in hot competition with Piyush Chawla however, so he will need to put on a strong show to remain in contention throughout.

The Kolkata Knight Riders will start their IPL 10 campaign as they square off against the Gujarat Lions on April 7th.

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