With three wins in their first four games, Kolkata Knight Riders began IPL 2022 in a manner very few expected. Captain Shreyas Iyer seemed to be the toast of the town, impressing experts and fans alike with his leadership qualities. And Iyer, full of confidence, played along, claiming he even knew how to get ‘work done’ from Umesh Yadav, something most limited-overs captains have torn their hairs apart to figure out. 

After KKR’s second win of the season, against Punjab on April 1, this is what Shreyas Iyer had to say: “Umesh told me that he was getting older, but I told him that he was getting fitter. I see him wherever I go, at the gym, and he is working very hard. I know how to get the work done from him, and he has been a wonderful colleague.”

  • Umesh Yadav before the quote: Inn – 3, Wickets – 8, Avg – 7.4, ER – 4.9
  • Umesh Yadav after the quote: Inn – 10, Wickets – 8, Avg – 35, ER – 7.8

Cut to five games later, not only was Umesh’s performance dropping, but everything around him was also falling apart. KKR had lost 5 games in a row and were still at only 3 wins from their first 9 games. The situation was so dire that they had to drop big names such as Varun Chakravarthy, Venkatesh Iyer, Pat Cummins and Shivam Mavi. 

Iyer wasn’t as confident in press conferences and interviews anymore. He even took a third-person point of view to their frequent playing XI changes, saying, “a lot of chopping and changing is happening”. These are words you would expect from a captain who doesn’t have a lot of control over the way his team is functioning. While it could very well be true, we wonder why none of it came up when the team was winning.

The 27-year-old even raised controversy after his 5th loss in a row by bringing the CEO of the Kolkata-based franchise, Venky Mysore, into the selection discussion, saying Mysore was also involved in the team selection, only to retract the statement a couple of days later. 

How did things get to this point for KKR after their stellar start to the tournament? We answer it here.

We will have to go back to February 12, the day of the mega auction, where it all began. Before the auction, KKR had managed to retain Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, Venkatesh Iyer, and Varun Chakravarthy for 42 Cr. So, they entered the auction with an opener, a finisher, and eight dependable overs of spin, which was a solid base to work with. But it all went downhill from there.

KKR began the auction day with a couple of eyebrow-raising buys – Pat Cummins for 7.25 Cr and Shreyas Iyer for 12.25 Cr. Iyer was overpriced at 12.25 crores but still understandable considering how difficult it is to get Indian internationals in an auction; it was, however, hard to make sense of the Cummins purchase.

Pat Cummins in IPL, Since 2020:

  • Powerplay: Ov – 44, ER – 7.16, Avg. – 29.33, Bdary% – 16.29
  • Middle Overs: Ov – 21, ER – 9.24, Avg. – 15.75, Bdary% – 18.25
  • Death Overs: Ov – 13.84, ER – 11.00, Avg. – 20.75, Bdary% – 26.51 

While we were still wondering about these buys, KKR skipped the entire second set to buy back Nitish Rana at 8 Cr. They had now spent close to 70 Cr from their allocated purse of 90 Cr and had three batters in their top 4 who could be tied down with pace or hard lengths. To make this worse, they did not place a single bid on Shimron Hetmyer or Jason Roy, two players more suited to the makeup of their team. The former is an excellent all-round batter who can bat anywhere from No.3 to No.7, and the latter is one of the most destructive openers against pace in world cricket. 

KKR’s most baffling auction move, however, was yet to come. Despite knowing the team needed a high-quality wicketkeeper, they did not go after Jonny Bairstow or Dinesh Karthik. Instead, they went after the one keeper with serious limitations against pace. 

Since IPL 2018 vs Pace:

  • Jonny Bairstow: R – 552, SR – 146.03, Avg. – 52.57
  • Dinesh Karthik: R – 752, SR – 147.45, Avg. – 32.70
  • Nicholas Pooran: R – 291, SR – 145.40, Avg. – 16.17

Missing out on this set had a domino effect on the rest of the batting order. It meant KKR had no option but to play a domestic keeper out of position, at No.5, to accommodate an overseas opener; if they wanted an upgrade on the keeping spot, they had to go for an all-Indian opening combination. They predictably ended up trying both in the season (Billings with Rahane first and Finch with Indrajith next) because neither was a sound strategy. 

You know you are in trouble if you depend on Ajinkya Rahane for a boost in strike rate.

KKR Top Order vs High-end Pace

If all these weren’t bad enough, they signed up Australian captain Aaron Finch when Alex Hales backed out of playing in this edition due to bubble fatigue. 

Aaron Finch in the IPL since 2018: R – 402, SR – 117.88, Avg. – 20.10, Bdary% – 14.66

Finch’s weakness against the incoming delivery is no secret. He has always seemed uncomfortable against the new ball, resulting in him not being able to do an opener’s primary role of maximizing the powerplay.

Aaron Finch vs pacers in powerplay in T20s since 2020: R – 423, SR – 108.70, Avg. – 26.40, Bdary% – 13.62

Not having a high-class opener meant they had to try eight different options up top. We can see the effects of their recruitment strategy on how KKR performed against pace in 2022 (numbers from the league stage):

Anything that had to do with pace, the Knight Riders found themselves wanting. They had the league’s worst ER vs pace despite Cummins and Russell combining to score 140 runs in 10.16 overs.

Revamping KKR: 

How do you go about getting the back the team back on track?

First things first, the budget: Some possible layoffs include Pat Cummins (7.25 Cr), Shivam Mavi (7.25 Cr), Mohammad Nabi (1 Cr), and Chamika Karunaratne (50 L). With 5 Cr added to every team’s purse, these moves could potentially leave them with 21 Cr. 

What they start with: V Iyer, Player X, S Iyer, N Rana, Player Y, A Russell, R Singh, S Narine, U Yadav, Player Z, V Chakravarthy

Target Players: 

Should Alex Hales be available, expect him to slot in at the top in 2023. His numbers against pace show how comfortable he is against the bowling type. His aggressive strokeplay could solve KKR’s SR issues against pace. 

Alex Hales vs High-end Pace since 2018: R – 465, SR – 152, Avg. – 42.30, Bdary% – 24.18

Another option could be to push Venkatesh Iyer to No. 5, something he’s doing at the international level, which would allow them to go after someone like Ben Stokes. Stokes, in T20s, adds maximum value at the top of the order – opening gives him time to settle in and not get exposed against spin to a spread field right away. However, this combination would require a local RHB option to complement the England superstar at the top. Or, given how well Iyer has done in the powerplay this year, they could even promote him to take up the role.

  • Ben Stokes as opener in IPL: Runs – 296, Avg – 33, SR – 141
  • Shreyas Iyer in PP in IPL 2022: Runs – 167, Avg – 83.5, SR – 141.5

Another interesting approach would be to promote Pat Cummins to the top. He has an enviable record against pace. So trying him as Ben Stokes’s or Venkatesh Iyer’s partner wouldn’t be a bad idea. 

Pat Cummins vs High-end pace since 2018: R – 133, SR – 192.81, Avg. – 44.33, Bdary% – 28.90

Some potential trade options include 

Robin Uthappa – A KKR legend who’s found his touch back of late. With his improved game against pace, he can also double up as a wicket keeping option. Trade out Pat Cummins or Shivam Mavi to CSK.

Robin Uthappa at Positions 1-3 in IPL since 2021: Runs – 204, Avg – 34, SR – 150

Evin Lewis – A destructive opener who can win games single-handedly, but it won’t be easy for KKR to pull this trade-off. Parting with Nitish Rana is their best shot as it would help LSG get a left-hander in the middle order, something the KL Rahul-led team badly needs. 

Likely Final Form: Ben Stokes*, RH Indian wk-batter, Shreyas Iyer(c), Nitish Rana, Venkatesh Iyer, Andre Russell*, Rinku Singh, Sunil Narine*, Varun Chakravarthy, Umesh Yadav, Overseas Pacer

It is unclear who will replace Brendon McCullum as KKR coach, but whoever it is, the candidate will have his task cut out to reconstruct their one-dimensional squad and get them back on the winning track.

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