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The IPL team that thinks

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Gautam_Gambhir_India_Cricket_IPL_Kolkata_Knight_RidersAs the teams sat at their tables for the IPL auction on February 20th, one of the key goals of the Kolkata Knight Riders was to fill the position of Andre Russell. With the West Indian serving a one year ban, one of the Knight Riders’ key players was set to miss the season. The SRK owned KKR needed to plug the huge void now left. 

While there is no replacement for Russell, Ben Stokes was the only one who came close. With his prices soaring, the Knight Riders had to settle for Chris Woakes. Although Corey Anderson could have been another option, the Knight Riders surprisingly didn’t vie for him.

A now Russell-less Knight Riders had to work on a new strategy. The formula was to bat hard up top, given they didn’t have the hitting prowess of the big West Indian at the end. The idea was to capitalize on the first 6 overs and make up for the runs they would lose with Russell not being in the side. As a result, the big hitting Aussie Chris Lynn opened with Gambhir and went hard at the bowlers. The move caught many by surprise, but for KKR it was a long thought-of move.

In the very first game, Lynn justified the change as he scored 93 off 41 balls against the Gujarat Lions, scoring the then fastest 50 of IPL 2017 off just 18 balls. Lynn struck the ball cleanly and it seemed all was well for the Knight Riders. 

With this performance being attributed to the weak Gujarat bowling line-up, Lynn did well in the next game against powerhouses Mumbai Indians, giving the Knight Riders an early thrust with his well paced 32. But the game couldn’t have ended on a worse note for the Knight Riders: not only did they lose the game due to poor fielding, they also lost their star player Lynn to a shoulder injury while diving.

Now what had panned out as a master strategy fell flat with Lynn out for at least a while. But Jacques Kallis isn’t a big name for no reason. He, along with Gambhir, worked out a new formula which saw Narine open with Gambhir and take pinch hitting to a new level. 

Narine was also ever so successful in his 1st game as opener, scoring a brisk 18 ball 37 to put the Knight Riders on the path to victory against Kings XI Punjab. But it lasted just a game as Sunrisers’ Bhuvneshwar Kumar uprooted Narine’s stumps early on to put the Knight Riders on the backfoot. 

 

Having realized that against a strong bowling line-up, Narine might struggle, the Colin De Grandhomme experiment was carried out against one of the strongest bowling attacks - the Delhi Daredevils. But to no avail. Having seen this fail too, the Knight Riders went back the Narine way and he produced yet another swashbuckling knock against a weak Gujarat Lions bowling attack, scoring 42 off 17 balls.

He continued the same against a weak Royal Challengers Bangalore and Rising Pune Supergiant attack, but failed against the Delhi Daredevils, getting back to the early question of him struggling against good bowlers.

He failed yet again, this time against the Sunrisers Hyderabad and the Rising Pune Supergiant. The bowlers by now had realized that Narine’s hitting zones were straight down the ground, along with the occasional flick off the pads. The good bowlers were quick to adjust their lengths, lines and variations in pace to catch him off guard and send him back in the hut.

But to the Knight Riders rescue, Chris Lynn recovered and was back in the side. It was pretty clear that against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, we would have the opening pair of Gambhir and Lynn back. But they’re not Kolkata Knight Riders unless they throw surprises and the game saw Narine open with Lynn. 

Making the most of Royal Challenger’s weak bowling line-up and their favourable lengths and pace, Narine added yet another success to his account. He scored the fastest 50 of the season off 15 balls. But that was that. Kings XI Punjab and Mumbai Indians had him covered and sent him back without causing any damage.

This probably sent alarm signs yet again to the Knight Riders camp to assess their choice of Narine opening, which isn’t the only thing not working, but also pushing the likes of Gambhir and Uthappa a slot down in the batting order.

 

Ever since Lynn and Narine have opened, Gambhir’s form has seen a huge dip and the stalwart has managed just 43 runs in 3 innings and has taken 50 balls to score the same. Even Uthappa, who was in exceptional form, has managed just 2 runs in as many innings. 

Now with the Playoffs here, all the top sides have made it thus far and boast good bowling line-ups, especially Knight Riders’ first opponent, the Sunrisers. With Narine having failed to do anything substantial against better bowling attacks and with Gauti and Uthappa’s form dipping fast, it would only be sensible on Knight Riders’ part to push Gauti back up with Uthappa taking the No.3 slot. 

Opening the innings, Gambhir can take time and make use of the pace to find gaps and can make the team play around him, which went missing at 3, where he had to force shots to get a start and failed. This will also get all their best batsmen to their usual position and give the Knight Riders their best chance to get a shot at the title. 

The pinch hitting experiments and moves could be useful in an odd game or two, but if you continue it, good teams will end up finding solutions and you are bound to struggle.

 

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