Kolkata are second in the league table, having won five of their seven matches so far. Their two losses have come against Mumbai Indians and Gujarat Lions.
The default decision would have been to fall back on Kolkata’s most consistent opening pair, and push Robin Uthappa up to his usual position where he has already scored a mountain of runs with his captain. But the effectiveness of a batsman hitting it from the first ball had left an impression on the team management. And thus, it was Sunil Narine who took strike in the third match to face the first ball against Kings XI Punjab. Narine has since then failed in every innings but one. However, it was his stroke-making in the V against RCB in Eden Gardens that proved to be a vital difference, as it provided crucial runs in a low-scoring match.
Manish Pandey has scored four fifties in the tournament already, batting at number four. His performances have flown under the radar due to the firepower provided at the other end in the form either Robi Uthappa or Yusuf Pathan. But his will to pace the innings as the situation demands is his strength, and therefore has no qualms about taking his own time to settle in, before he expands his range and goes aerial. Pandey has been ably supported by Yusuf, and they have stitched together crucial partnerships, the most notable being the one against Delhi Daredevils, where they chased down a tricky total with maturity against one of the better bowling units in the tournament.
KKR would have preferred Andre Russell’s destructive all-round abilities, but due to a drugs ban, they are stuck without him. Taking nothing away from the Kiwis Boult and de Grandhomme, but it’s either the conditions, or KKR’s gameplan that does not seem to gel with the two players. Boult can have good reason to feel hard done by, though. It is difficult to be too critical about someone whose search for rhythm has been interrupted by dropped catches, misfields and just too many edges falling in the vacant spaces of the ground.
Chris Woakes has had some redemption as he picked up three wickets against RCB in Eden Gardens, where the visitors collapsed to an all-time low IPL total of 49 all out. Woakes was brought in as a genuine all-rounder, but very early in the tournament, the management realised that Woakes is the kind of batsman who accumulates runs, and is not a smasher of the ball. This is what has forced the team’s hand to play de Grandhomme. Umesh’s timely comeback allowed them to leave Boult out to balance the squad. It remains to be seen whether de Grandhomme can replicate his hitting form that he has so often put up for display for his national crowd.
Leaving his batting heroics aside, Narine has held the bowling unit together, along with Kuldeep Yadav, as Gautam Gambhir tinkered around with his pace bowlers. The two spinners are the first names on the team sheet. Kuldeep has finally trumped Piyush Chawla to become KKR’s frontline wrist-spinner. Narine does not bowl the death overs anymore, but he is still one of the best bowlers in the format – when not bowling to Suresh Raina. Gambhir will be hoping that both these bowlers will continue to be miserly, if not always among the wickets, to allow the pacers to charge in with intent.
The team is playing positive, tough cricket, and the playing XI ticks all the boxes that make a strong side. The only worry that remains is the absence of a pinch-hitter at 6/7. Suryakumar Yadav has been more of a fielder than a batsman this season, as he either gets to bat at the fag-end of the innings, or not at all. Even when he is at the crease, he has never seemed so less assured about his own batting before. Maybe, the skipper could try someone like Rishi Dhawan or Ishank Jaggi. One is a genuine all-rounder in the Indian setup and can offer something both with the bat and ball in hand. Jaggi was picked up in the auction this year and was a consistent performer in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy earlier this year with 247 runs in nine games.