IPL 2020: Can Dinesh Karthik take Kolkata Knight Riders to their third IPL title?

NEW DELHI: There’s no doubt that two time champions Kolkata Knight Riders are an extremely popular franchise in the IPL. The team co-owned by Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan evokes high emotions among the followers of the game in India.
KKR in fact was the team that made the first big headlines in IPL history, thanks to Brendon McCulum’s electric knock of 158 in the very first IPL match played in 2008. KKR have always been among the strong contenders for the title and they usually start strong.
They are one of only three franchises who have won the title more than once so far (2012 & 2014).
Kolkata Knight Riders have finished in the playoffs of the tournament four times and have reached the final of the tournament twice, winning the titles on both the occasions. Both their titles so far were won under the captaincy of former captain Gautam Gambhir.
In their first final, in the 2012 edition, KKR defeated the MS Dhoni-led Chennai Super Kings by 5 wickets at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chepauk in Chennai. Manvinder Bisla top scored for KKR in the final with a 89-run knock that came off 48 balls, as the visitors chased down the 191-run target with two balls to spare.
KKR faced the George Bailey-led Kings XI Punjab in the final of the 2014 edition in Bengaluru. Wriddhiman Saha smashed an unbeaten 115 to power KXIP to 199/4. Manish Pandey top scored for KKR with a 94-run knock, as they romped home to their second IPL title with three balls to spare.

The KKR team for IPL 2020 looks like a mean fighting machine. Captained by Dinesh Karthik who took some bold calls about letting a few veterans go, the Knight Riders have only a few players from the team which had Gambhir as captain left.
The way KKR approached the last player auction in December 2019 showed that the team is thinking along the lines of creating more balance.
STAR RECRUITS – Eoin Morgan and Pat Cummins, who was the most expensive buy of the last auction at a whopping Rs 15.5 Crore are two players who can swing the momentum KKR’s way, almost single handedly. Morgan, the current England limited overs captain has a T20 international strike rate of almost 140, with 14 fifties. Morgan’s rich experience of leading England will also be a big help for DK the captain
THE SPIN FACTOR – The slow pitches in the UAE will suit the KKR spinners. The likes of Sunil Narine, Kuldeep Yadav, Rinku Singh, M Siddharth and Varun Chakravarthy will play a big role and give Karthik multiple spinning options. Kuldeep needs to put the ordinary season he had in 2019 behind him and focus on the task at hand his time around in new conditions. Remember they also have Nitish Rana who can chip in with a few overs of very useful spin
POTENT PACE ATTACK – An attack that has the likes of Pat Cummins, Lockie Ferguson, Andre Russell, Prasidh Krishna, the fit again Kamlesh Nakarkoti and Shivam Mavi and Sandeep Warrier can be a handful when they find their rhythm
THE BIG HITTERS – KKR have a whole host of big hitters in their ranks including the incredible Andre Russell, Eoin Morgan, Nitish Rana, Shubman Gill, Dinesh Karthik, who can shift gears quickly when needed and Rahul Tripathi. Young Englishman Tom Banton, who joins the side is an explosive opening batsman. It will be interesting to see if Bantion, who has an international T20 strike rate of over 143 is used as an opener by KKR. He is also a back-up wicketkeeping option for Karthik. Remember, Sunil Narine is also an explosive batting option and has opened the batting for them on multiple occasions.
A CALM CAPTAIN – One of the big positives for KR is Dinesh Karthik as captain. The highly underrated Karthik, who is a very effective T20 batsman and wicket-keeper who has played 32 T20 internationals for India is a thinking captain. Last season his decision to push himself down the order didn’t work. Expect him to play up the order, like he did in the latter stages of IPL 2019

BAZ AS COACH – Think Brendon McCullum and you will think of a cricketer who is aggressive in his mindset, but calm on the outside. That is a combination that will help KKR, with Baz in charge of the team as the Head Coach. McCullum shares a special relationship with the Knight Riders and will be extra motivated after taking the Trinbago Knight Riders to their fourth CPL title recently
SETTLED PLAYING XI – Very important for KKR to figure this out as quickly as possible, especially with a rather new looking squad this time around. Will not having Robin Uthappa any more in their ranks any more make a big impact on both the think tank and the performances on the field? Expect Shubman Gill to open the batting perhaps with Narine, with Karthik at number three
NOT LOSING INTENSITY – KKR have in the past been guilty of taking their foot off the pedal, especially after a good start to the season. The seniors in the team need to make sure the intensity doesn’t drop
THE FOURTH FOREIGNER SLOT – Overall, the team looks quite balanced on paper, with Morgan, Russell and Narine almost guaranteed to play all matches, which leaves one overseas player slot open. And that’s something they need to decide wisely. It could be a toss up between Cummins, Ferguson and Banton, depending on form, the conditions, opposition and how the team is placed on the points table at that time

KKR not only have a fine combination of experience and youth but also have players who can perform at crucial stages of matches when required. With Pat Cummins as the pace spearhead, Kamlesh Nagarkoti can surprise the batsmen with his raw pace and can learn a few tricks of the trade from the Aussie pacer. Kuldeep Yadav is a proven match-winner. Karthik and Morgan can put their international experience to good use at crucial junctures but what can make the difference between winning and losing for KKR will be how they use Russell in the batting order. He can be sent in as a pinch-hitter when KKR are batting first and down the order also to finish off the game when chasing big totals. KKR are strong contenders for the IPL 2020 title but they must ensure that they do not flatter to deceive.
Full Squad: Dinesh Karthik (Capt.), Eoin Morgan, Nitish Rana, Rahul Tripathi, Rinku Singh, Shubman Gill, Siddhesh Lad, Tom Banton, Harry Gurney, Kuldeep Yadav, Lockie Ferguson, Manimaran Siddharth, Pat Cummins, Prasidh Krishna, Sandeep Warrier, Varun Chakravarthy, Andre Russell, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi, Sunil Narine, Nikhil Naik

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