KKR’s bowling woes pulling them down in IPL 2023 | Cricket

Going into IPL 2023, it was batting that looked wobbly for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR). Yet, after five games, they have scored over 200 thrice, the only team to do that till Tuesday.

Kolkata Knight Riders’s Umesh Yadav and Andre Russell celebrate the wicket of Mayank Agarwal during the Indian Premier League cricket match between Kolkata Knight Riders and Sunrisers Hyderabad in Kolkata, India, Friday, April 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)(AP)

“We have never been short on belief,” stand-in captain Nitish Rana said after the defeat to Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) where KKR, chasing 229, scored 205. Rinku Singh’s exploits against Gujarat Titans (GT) increased self-belief as has Venkatesh Iyer’s 104 against Mumbai Indians (MI), only the second century from the franchise in IPL history. Iyer also came good against GT and Singh has made sizeable contributions against SRH and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). Rana scored 75 against SRH, played a cameo against GT and Rahmanullah Gurbaz made 57 against RCB.

“If not him (Singh), it would be me or someone else who would play an extraordinary innings,” said Rana.

But after two successive defeats, and three overall, KKR have slipped south in the standings going into Thursday’s away game against Delhi Capitals (DC). After being brushed away by MI on Sunday, Rana said: “They targeted our best bowlers and if our best get hit for runs, there is not much you can do. The way Ishan (Kishan) played Sunny (Sunil Narine)…”

Narine leaked 22 runs in the fourth over, 16 of them to Kishan. Rana, then, asked bowlers to step up. “One-two matches are okay but it’s been five games. Even the best can have one bad day but back-to-back it is a worry,” he said.

KKR have conceded 932 runs, the third most after RCB’s 965 and Chennai Super Kings’ 937. Till Wednesday, they were among four teams to have leaked 200 or more twice; only RCB have fared worse. SRH’s 228/4 against KKR remains the highest this term till Tuesday. “Whatever be the wicket, that is a lot of runs,” Rana said.

An attack comprising Umesh Yadav, Lockie Ferguson, Tim Southee, Sunil Narine, Shardul Thakur, Andre Russell and Varun Chakaravarthy cannot be called inexperienced. Yet, there is no KKR bowler in the top 10 in most dot balls bowled (Narine and Chakaravarthy are 13th and 14th with 39 and 38 deliveries respectively) and at 32nd, Narine’s economy rate of 8.31 is the best for the Knights.

At 6.33, Russell has the best strike rate but he has bowled only five overs. There is no other KKR bowler in the top 20. In the only game KKR’s bowlers delivered, against RCB, Chakaravarthy finished with 4/15 in 3.4 overs, the second-best figures of the season till Wednesday.

“The fast bowlers have not delivered,” said former India all-rounder Laxmi Ratan Shukla who played for KKR from 2008 to 2013. “The experienced bowlers have not been consistent. With the ball, KKR haven’t started well so far,” said former India batter Manoj Tiwari, a KKR player from 2010-13. Tiwari hit the winning runs in 2012 for KKR’s first IPL trophy.

Only CSK, DC, MI and Lucknow Super Giants have taken fewer wickets than KKR’s seven in the power play.

“Umesh (Yadav) will bowl one good over and often three ordinary overs. Also, many in KKR’s bowling unit seem to lack variety and ideas in pressure situations,” Tiwari added.

As captain and coach, Tiwari and Shukla guided Bengal to the Ranji Trophy final in 2022-23.

Bowling changes, too, were questioned by Shukla and Tiwari. The Bengal coach said KKR should have introduced spin earlier than the fourth over against SRH. And Tiwari wondered why Thakur was preferred over Ferguson or Russell at the start of MI’s innings. “He (Thakur) does get you a breakthrough but he tends to be expensive.”

Ferguson went for 14 in his first over against SRH and GT’s Vijay Shankar took 25 off him in the innings’ 19th but Tiwari said the New Zealander “with a somewhat unorthodox action which can create doubts in the batter’s mind is not being used properly.”

Speaking separately, Shukla said: “I would like to see what happens if KKR start with a spinner when the opener is a foreigner.”

Tiwari said he wasn’t sure the Eden wicket would help KKR. “They are a spin-heavy team and the track should have been where the ball grips and offers some turn. Look at Lucknow Super Giants (LSG).”

When Gautam Gambhir, now LSG mentor, led KKR, the Eden track was how Tiwari wished it was. During Gambhir’s reign from 2011 to 2017, KKR won the IPL twice.

Shukla said he was confident KKR would sort out the bowling. “With so much experience, they cannot not hit form.”

Rana said as much. “My bowlers will help me win matches, I know this,” he said, after the last home game. To pull back from what has been a nightmare of a season, DC will hope Rana and Shukla’s are wrong for one more game.