On Sunday, April 8, the third match of VIVO IPL-11 will take place at the “home” of Indian cricket – Eden Gardens, Kolkata. Hosts Kolkata Knight Riders will take on Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore, in a replay of the first-ever IPL match way back in 2008. Back then, not many can forget owner Shah Rukh Khan’s enthusiasm as he cheered on ‘Rawalpindi Express’ Shoaib Akhtar – KKR demolished RCB in that game by 140 runs, on the back of perhaps the tournament’s most defining innings, Brendon McCullum’s stunning unbeaten 158 off 73 balls. The Chinnaswamy Stadium became witness to the birth of the most prolific scoring pitch in the years to come.
But as KKR walk out next month to face their South Indian rivals, they will do so under a new captain, with a relatively new-look team that arguably made the smartest picks in this year’s IPL Auction. For the first time in years, Gautam Gambhir will not be leading the team out into the loud din of Eden Gardens.
KKR are the third most successful IPL team in the tournament’s history – winning two IPL titles in 2012 and 2014. Back then, they had become only the second team to win two IPL titles after CSK. As of today, they are one of three teams – the others being Mumbai Indians (3) and CSK (2). KKR has won both their titles under Gambhir, making him one of three Indian captains to have won two or more IPL titles. In 2017, KKR won 9 out of 16 games, reaching the playoffs after finishing fourth in the table. They then defeated defending champions Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Eliminator before going down to eventual champions Mumbai Indians in the second eliminator.
Like Mumbai, KKR had a tough start to their IPL journey. They took four seasons to stand up and be counted as one of the top teams. Despite starting well in 2008, they lost their way spectacularly under Sourav Ganguly. Only in 2011, after three years of Dada’s captaincy, once Gambhir took charge after leaving Delhi Daredevils, the team began to perform consistently well. It finished fourth and reached the playoffs in 2011 after finishing sixth, fifth and sixth in the first three IPL editions. 2012 was a breakthrough season; KKR finished second in the league stages and won its qualifier, before beating defending champions CSK in a thriller of a Final. In 2014, they halted Kings XI Punjab fairytale run in the Final, again chasing a high score and winning the title. KKR are the only team to have won BOTH their Finals – in comparison, CSK has won two out of six Finals, while MI has won two out of three finals.
KKR have been involved in arguably two of the three best high-scoring Finals in IPL history.
In the 2012 final, KKR defied the odds and chased down 190 in the backyard of an inspired Chennai Super Kings team. CSK had already won two titles in a row, and was going for an unprecedented triple when Suresh Raina – the highest scorer in IPL history – smashed 73 of 38 balls to set KKR a tough target. But this was the pre-Robin Uthappa era, in which wicketkeeper Manvinder Bisla grasped his opportunities. After the early dismissal of Gambhir, Bisla combined with current coach Jacques Kallis for an incredible 136-run partnership. When Bisla was dismissed, KKR needed 52 off 32 balls with Kallis at the crease. But the South African struggled to finish, and was dismissed with 16 to get off the last 7 balls. Not many will forget Ben Hilfenhaus’ no-ball at that point, one that eventually cost his team 7 runs – leaving 9 to get off the final Dwayne Bravo over. Manoj Tiwary finished it off with two heroic fours, creating history.
In the 2014 Final, Kings XI Punjab had captured imaginations across the country with their performance till the final – with Manan Vohra, Virender Sehwag, Glenn Maxwell, captain George Bailey and Axar Patel leading the way. But it was Wriddhiman Saha who shocked KKR in the final, scoring a stunning 115 not out – still the highest score ever in an IPL Final. KKR were set a target of 200 at the Chinnaswamy – not impossible but tough. However, Manish Pandey stood tall with a great 94, and Yusuf Pathan’s cameo, combined with Piyush Chawla’s streaky six and four off the last over ensured that KKR became the first and only team to chase down 200 in an IPL Final.
KKR’s rivalry with RCB is the most enthralling so far. They have won 12 out of their 21 games against RCB, and have two more titles than them. But emotions run high when the two face each other – especially with the two Delhi boys at the helm, Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli, who had a nasty spat a few years ago on the field. Add to this the history of Chris Gayle ejected from KKR after an unsuccessful beginning to his IPL career and then making history at RCB for the next part of the decade. With Dinesh Karthik leading KKR now, perhaps the rivalry will take a new mood.
The inability of KKR to win a title since 2013 has coincided with the downfall of Sunil Narine as their main weapon. A few days ago, his action was again reported – and these controversies have taken a toll on his bowling for KKR in the last three seasons. He took a mind-boggling 68 wickets between 2012 to 2014 and has managed only 28 since then. He was even used as more of a pinch-hitting opening batsman in the last season, where he was quite effective. But perhaps his best bowling performance came in 2012, where he destroyed Adam Gilchrist’s Kings XI Punjab with 5-19 in his four overs, restricting them to a paltry 134. That KKR went on to lose the game by two runs pretty much sums up the “mystery” spinner’s enigmatic career so far.
KKR has the third most match wins (77) behind MI and CSK.
Sunil Narine holds the joint IPL record of the fastest ever fifty (15 balls) with fellow KKR all-rounder, Yusuf Pathan.
Sunil Narine has the best IPL economy rate (6.33) across the 82 games he has played. He is also the only KKR bowler to have a hat-trick to his name. He also has the maximum 4-wicket hauls (6).
KKR hold the record for the most consecutive wins in IPL history – 10 in total, and 9 in a season (2014).
With 126 wickets, Piyush Chawla is fourth on the list of all-time IPL wicket-takers behind Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra, and Lasith Malinga.
While the two West Indians Andre Russell and Sunil Narine were the only ones retained, KKR re-bought the rest of their core with their right-to-match cards – Robin Uthappa, Piyush Chawla and Kuldeep Yadav. By buying back explosive Aussie opener Chris Lynn, KKR retained the core. By buying Dinesh Karthik – who recently did a Miandad against Bangladesh to win the tri-series title – and making him captain, KKR pulled off a coup. He will keep, with Uthappa set to field.
The U-18 uncapped players picked by KKR are world-cup winners and the best of the tournament: star batsman Shubman Gill, as well as fast bowlers Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi. Hence it’s the bowling, led by Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson, Andre Russell, Kuldeep Yadav and Sunil Narine that will be the strongest in the tournament.
KKR have been unorthodox, ranging from ridiculous to daring in their line-ups over the years, because they have been unsure about the team composition with so many players at their disposal. They were forced to play Narine at the top after Lynn’s injury last season. This year, they will have to start from scratch, with no Yusuf Pathan or Manoj Tiwary, but ex Mumbai star Nitish Rana there to shore up the middle order.
Chris Lynn, Robin Uthappa, Shubman Gill, Dinesh Karthik, Nitish Rana, Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, Kuldeep Yadav, Mitchell Starc, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi/Vinay Kumar
Bench: Piyush Chawla, Mitchell Johnson, Ishank Jaggi