IPL 2023 Kolkata Knight Riders Preview

KKR IPL 2023 Preview

KKR will hope to start IPL 2023 in the same manner that they did last season but the real question to consider in our preview of their chances this year is will they be able to maintain that early momentum? Kolkata won 3 of their opening 4 games in IPL 2022 to sit top of the table for a brief time before things particularly with the bat, began to unravel and led to them losing 5 on the bounce with a few crushing defeats thrown into the mix.

KKR Review of IPL 2022

The numbers below demonstrate KKR’s troubles with the bat throughout last season in almost all facets of the game.

They chopped and changed their top order seeking a successful combination. Venkatesh Iyer who had burst onto the scene in KKR’s run to the final just 18 months ago struggled to rediscover his form with some suggestions that he and in fact many of his team mates were better suited to the pitches in the UAE. That lead to him being shunted up and down the order along with KKR throwing the likes of Finch, Billings, Rahane and even Sunil Narine in as openers with limited or no impact.

Nitesh Rana, as he does most seasons, had his moments where you thought he looked like a really classy operator but it’s notable that in his 6 seasons as an IPL regularly he is still yet to pass that 400 run mark in a season which is the real bench mark for quality.

In fact, it was only new captain Shreyas Iyer who did pass 400 runs last season but only just. He was also responsible for 3 of the 9 x 50+ scores that KKR recorded with Rana getting another 2.

Beyond that KKR certainly had a couple of champagne moments with bat in hand including Pat Cummins incredible 14 ball half century to equal the fastest 50 in IPL history. Meanwhile Andre Russell faced significantly more deliveries in 2022 than he had done over either of the last couple of IPL seasons and while he maintained a dangerous strike rate of 172, he doesn’t look like the player that dominated attacks between 2015 to 2019.

With ball in hand, a large part of KKR’s early success was due to the brilliance of Umesh Yadav who took 9 of his 16 IPL 2022 wickets during those opening 4 games. Tim Southee too took 14 wickets at a strike rate of 15 and Andre Russell lead the wicket taking stakes with 17 scalps.

It was however noticeable that while Yadav was very good in the powerplay particularly while the pitches had a little bit of grass on them early in the season and that between them Southee and Russell took 15 wickets at the death, there was very little penetration during the middle overs from KKR’s bowlers.

Cummins was given the role of middle overs enforcer but went at nearly 11 an over in the 5 matches he played while Varun Chakravarthy, another key player for KKR in 2021, had a shocking season with just 6 wickets in the 11 matches he played. Opposition teams obviously identified Sunil Narine as a threat but seemed happy to just play out his 4 overs and attack the weaker links. Narine’s economy at just 5.57 was incredible but his strike rate of a wicket every 37.3 balls was not.

Key stats for KKR in IPL 2022

KKR IPL 2023 Auction

KKR actually did a lot of their business pre-auction by acquiring Shardul Thakur, bringing back Lockie Ferguson and getting young Afghan opener Rahmanullah Gurbaz in as cover.

KKR retained overseas stalwarts Sunil Narine and Andre Russell but elsewhere they swung the axe with Cummins, Finch and Billings paying the price for a disappointing 2022. They also released Shivam Mavi and then attempted to bid to get him back before Gujrat pipped them to his signature.

With Billings and Shelddon Jackson both being released, one of KKR’s main objectives was to acquire a couple of gloveman. They brought in Jagadeesan who has had limited opportunities at CSK in his fledging career and Bangladesh top order player Liton Das who can also keep.

Elsewhere, KKR generally went in for all-round options. Shakib Al Hasan is back and joined by the evergreen David Weise. Both were relatively cheap and give KKR plenty of options as far as balancing their side for a variety of conditions.

Given their batting woes last year, it was perhaps surprising that KKR didn’t look to bring in a little more quality in the top order. Mandeep Singh at least brings experience to the party albeit that he’s not been a regular in any IPL side for the past 3 seasons.

With Shivam Mavi departing, KKR needed some local fast bowling cover and they opted to bring in Vaibhav Arora who played 5 matches for PBKS last season. The seamer was allegedly signed on the instructions of captain Shreyas Iyer who faced him in domestic first class cricket this winter where Arora took 25 wickets in 7 games for Himachal Pradesh.

The other significant off-season change was the appointment of Chandrakant Pandit as Head Coach. The fact that Brendon McCullum already had one foot out of the door last year certainly didn’t help KKR’s cause. Pandit has ample experience in Indian domestic cricket and we wait to see how he might alter the team’s style of play and ethos in IPL 2023.

KKR Predicted XI IPL 2023

As noted above, KKR choped and changed their top order last season as they searched for a successful combination but with limited options in the squad they don’t look likely to have that particular option again in IPL 2023.

Venkatesh Iyer will open and KKR will hope that he’s gotten over the 2nd season syndrome that saw him a shadow of the exciting player who burst on to the scence and took them to a final in 2021. That form also catapulted him into the Indian white ball team but his lack of runs and wickets last season has seen him drop well down the pecking order. Venkatesh does at least have the advantage of having worked with new KKR coach Chandrakant Pandit at Madhya Pradesh and getting the best out of him will be top of the agenda for the new man in charge.

Venkatesh Iyer hit 4 half centuries in his first 10 IPL appearances but managed just 1 in IPL 2022

Narayan Jagadeesan seems like the logical choice of opening partner for Vekatesh Iyer. The right hander made just 7 appearances over a 3 year stint at CSK as he struggled to break into a side with strong options in his chosen position. He is more of a steady opener than a dasher with his strike in T20 cricket to date a fairly sedate 118.

If KKR did want a bit of extra hitting ability in the powerplay then they could opt to bring in Liton Das. Das was one of the better players for Bangladesh in what was an otherwise a disappointing T20 World Cup as he added 127 runs from 5 matches at a strike rate of 142. His selection would take up an overseas spot and limit KKR to picking a solitary overseas fast bowler.

3 and 4 will almost certainly be Shreyas Iyer and Nitish Rana. Again, I would be concerned about KKR’s potency in the powerplay with both players stroke makers rather than heavy hitters. Shreyas started many of his innings last season at a very quick rate but ideally, KKR would like him to play the anchor role with others taking risks around him.

As noted above, Nitish Rana has had plenty of opportunities over the years, looks very good for a couple of games every season and then disappears into the background. It’s been a similar story in domestic cricket since the close of IPL 2022 with Rana generally struggling to make an impact in the longer formats having previously scored a century in the Syed Ali Mustaq trophy

The middle order could see the likes of Rinku Singh or the aforementioned Mandeep Singh. Rinku certainly had his most productive IPL in 2022 with 174 runs at a strike rate 148, all coming in the later half of the tournament. He also batted nicely in combination with Andre Russell who will likely float around the KKR middle order.

All-round options are certainly KKR’s strong suit and it’s not impossible that they play with them from positions 5 to 9 with Russell, Wiese, Shakib, Thakur and Narine all capable of offering options with bat and ball. The reality is that KKR will likely pick between either Wiese or Shakib because they’ll almost certainly want one of their overseas spots to go to a fast bowler.

It’s also worth remembering that this season in the IPL will see the introduction of the tactical substitution. KKR’s plethora of all-rounders might see them well set to take advantage of that.

With Shakib in the side, KKR would also have an effective looking spin attack that comprises his left-arm spin, Narine’s mystery and accuracy and Chakravarthy’s wrist spin. The later had a disappointing IPL 2022 but returned to some semblance of form in the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy last autumn with 7 wickets in 6 matches. KKR will be most keen for him to take wickets within the middle over phase where they struggled last season.

In that sense, the return of Lockie Ferguson also gives them a fast bowler who can play that kind of enforcer role in the middle portion of the innings. It also balances their options nicely with Umesh Yadav able to operate primarily in the powerplay, Shardul Thakur able to bowl at both ends of the innings and Andre Russell generally seen as a specialist death bowler these days.

Lockie Ferguson T20i middle overs bowling stats fo New Zealand since 2019. KKR will be hoping he can have a similar impact in IPL 2023

Bowling was KKR’s stronger suit last season as well to the extent that they only won one match where the opposition scored over 160 and that was the game against Mumbai Indians which looked like going against the Knight Riders until that inspired knock from Pat Cummins.

KKR IPL 2023 Predictions

I’m not convinced by KKR’s batting line-up and the lack of depth that they have in the top and middle order. They are banking on a small group of batsmen, most of whom under performed last season, to deliver significantly better results this year.

There’s a lack of real power in their top order too which could heap pressure on the lower order to up the scoring rate later on if KKR are to reach competitive totals.

However, as we saw last year, when KKR get it right with the ball, they do possess a variety of match winners and with the likes of Lockie Ferguson and Shardul Thakur coming in, they’ve almost certainly strengthened in that area too.

While writing this post, the BBCI have finally announced the schedule and venues for IPL 2023. KKR find themselves in group A meaning that they’ll play twice against group B teams. For me, while there is very little to choose amongst the IPL squads, group B is the slightly weaker side of the draw so that does give KKR a potential advantage.

Equally, we now know that the IPL will go back to home and away venues and Eden Gardens has traditionally been a good pitch for bowlers which may mean that KKR can prepare pitches to favour their stronger suit in bowling. Of course, every franchise can benefit from a similar tactic too while playing at home this season.

Despite the above, it doesn’t change my assessment that this is a KKR squad with deficiencies, particularly within their batting, that will make it difficult for them to sustain a challenge for the playoffs.

Predicted finish: 9th

Published by Statman Tom

Cricket Lover and Writer

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