In the inaugural edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) were the most high-profile side in the competition. Owned by Bollywood superstars Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla and captained by former India skipper Sourav Ganguly, there were great hopes from the side. However, despite Brendon McCullum kicking off the IPL with a belligerent 158 not out, KKR ended up 6th out of 8th.
They continued to disappoint in 2009 and 2010 as well finishing 8th and 6th respectively. It was in 2011 that KKR finally displayed some presence in the tournament, making it to the playoffs and ending on 4th position. Under Gautam Gambhir’s inspirational captaincy in 2012, KKR won their maiden title, and after a disappointing 2013, in which they finished at 7th position, the franchise captured their second crown in 2014.
The last half a decade has been an up and down time for KKR. They ended at the fifth position in 2015 and 2019, and made it to the play-offs for three consecutive years -- from 2016 to 2018 -- but failed to go all the way.
Here are three factors that could determine KKR’s fate in IPL 2020.
#1. English talent becoming game-changers
KKR have gone for two England players with vastly different qualities and experience. Eoin Morgan is a World Cup-winning captain, who is capable of turning games around with his big hits. His world record of 17 sixes in cricket’s premier tournament was no mean feat even if it came against Afghanistan.
Morgan has the expertise to deal with all kinds of T20 situations having played in various domestic leagues over the years. He can even lead the side if needed or with his vast experience of leadership can guide the captain in charge. Somehow, his IPL record is not that great -- 854 runs in 52 matches at an average of 21.35 and a strike rate of 121.13. But, that is bound to change if he gets a decent run.
The other English player in the team is young Tom Banton, who has taken T20 cricket by storm with some sizzling performances with the bat. In the recently-concluded Big Bash League, he scored 223 runs from seven games for Brisbane Heat at an excellent strike rate of 176.98 with three fifties.
Banton’s talent though was evident much before that. He blasted 549 in the Vitality Blast last year, which featured an innings of 100 from 52 balls for Somerset against Kent. He made an impact in the Abu Dhabi T10 League too, in which he smashed two half-centuries, including a superb 80 off 28 for Qalandars against Karnataka Tuskers.
If Banton can leave his imprint on the IPL, it could play a major part in KKR’s success.
#2. Pat Cummins living up to his price tag
At the IPL 2020 auction last year, Australian fast bowler Pat Cummins walked away as the most expensive player at a record price (for overseas players) of ₹15.5 crores. Cummins last played the IPL in 2017. Turning out for Delhi Daredevils, he picked up 15 wickets in 12 matches at a strike rate of 18.46 and an average of 24.86.
Since then, his stock has risen significantly. In 2019, he had a particularly impressive year all-round. He claimed a 10-wicket match haul in the Gabba Test against Sri Lanka. He picked up a five-for during the 4th ODI of Australia’s tour of India. Cummins was the leading wicket-taker in the Ashes with 29 wickets at an average of 19.62.
Cummins currently occupies the top position in the ICC Test bowling rankings. For his consistent match-winning efforts, he was named ICC’s Test Cricketer of the Year in January this year. Despite his best performances having come in the longer version of the game, the KKR think-tank were influenced enough to buy him at a huge sum.
Having said that, there is no denying the fact that the 26-year-old is at the peak of his powers. If he gets it right, Cummins can unsettle the best of batsmen with his pace and bounce. This is the x-factor that perhaps led KKR to take extra efforts (read money) to have the fearsome pacer in the team.
Whether the move proves to be a masterstroke or a complete miscalculation, we will come to know only during the tournament.
#3. Russell having the desired impact
West Indian all-rounder Andre Russell had a sensational IPL in 2019. In 14 matches, he slammed 510 runs at an unimaginable strike rate of 204.81 and an average of 56.66 with four half-centuries. To simplify the record further and understand its magnificence, Russell scored 510 runs in 249 balls.
Despite his standout performance, KKR still struggled to make much of an impact as they failed to qualify for the play-offs and came fifth. One of the reasons was the lack of support Russell got. Often it was a case of him having to win games single-handedly for the team. Russell himself felt that he should have been batting higher up the order. As such, the communication gap in the team was exposed.
Once again, KKR would have high hopes from Russell. But, the team management should utilise him in a manner in which his utility is maximised. Ideally, as Russell believed, he should be batting higher up the order, so that he can face more deliveries and score more runs. Apart from his big-hitting skills, Russell is also a useful medium-pacer and an electrifying fielder -- a complete T20 package.
Unlike in the previous edition, if the other batsmen can also come up with more consistent efforts, Russell’s presence can make a greater difference.