Knight Riders to bank on Karthik’s new-found mojo

They are two-times champions (2012 and 2014) and qualified for play-offs three times (2011, 2016 and 2017). That is the record of Bollywood super star Shahrukh Khan’s owned Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in ten editions of IPL. Former Indian opener Gautam Gambhir had been at the helm of affairs for this Kolkata team during this phase of time.

However, the franchise decided not to go for the 36-year-old Gambhir, who was KKR’s leading run-getter and had a creditable record as captain. Instead, when they went into auction, they choose the team first and waited for a few days before announcing the captain and vice-captain for the season. When Dinesh Karthik was named to lead the side, there was a little element of surprise. But all this perception changed after Karthik’s magical eight-ball 29 against Bangladesh in the tri-series final in Colombo. KKR were justified in their decision to make Karthik as their leader.

According to Venky Mysore, CEO and managing director of KKR, their main objective was to achieve change which Karthik represents as he’s new to KKR and brings a fresh perspective. There was continuity as they made the dashing opener Uthappa vice-captain. In a way, Uttappa will be relieved as wicketkeeper and Karthik will take charge behind the stumps. KKR, in fact, retained only two players (Andre Russell and Sunil Narine, both of West Indies). They used the RTM (right-to-match option) to keep back Uthappa and the two wrist spinners (Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla).

Karthik accepted that it is a challenge to fill in the big shoes of Gambhir (now Delhi Daredevils captain). “What Gautam Gambhir has achieved for KKR is phenomenal. He’s left a benchmark that every season they have qualified as bare minimum.’’

The chirpy Karthik, however, said he was ready for the new role. “And being a leader of the team, the management will expect the same from me. I’m aware of expectations. Whether there would be pressure, ‘yes’. As a captain, you’re expected to at least go to the playoffs. That’s the least anybody can expect. I think I’m at a stage where I can handle it and get the best out of the team,” he said.

But there was a setback before the start of the season as star Australian pacer Mitchell Starc, who was brought for Rs 9.4 crore, was ruled out of the IPL due to a tibial bone stress fracture in his right leg. KKR named England death bowling specialist fast bowler Tom Curran as the replacement.

But they took a gamble in retaining spinner Narine even though his bowling action was again reported during the Pakistan Super League. Dashing Australian opener Chris Lynn, who was invested at a big price of 9.6 crore, dislocated his shoulder and that could also be a worry for KKR. In this scenario, KKR would be riding on Karthik’s new found confidence and his batting exploits along with senior players like Uthappa and Russell. The Kolkata team also went in for India’s under-19 World Cup sensations like opener Shubham Gill and fast bowlers Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi.

KKR will be pinning hopes on retired Australian left-arm pacer Mitchell Johnson in the absence of Starc. He will now spearhead KKR’s pace attack along with the two spinners Kuldeep Yadav (Chinaman) and Chawla. Coach Jacques Kallis has to play his cards well to ride KKR to success.