September 29, 2021 9:10:55 am
Eoin Morgan’s Kolkata Knight Riders have been enjoying an upsurge in form during the second phase of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Aggressive and fearless cricket have contributed to the improvement. Finally, Morgan is building a team in his own image, like Gautam Gambhir – he led KKR to the IPL title twice – did during his seven-year stint as the franchise skipper. Already in the top four, Morgan’s side is looking good enough to be title contenders.
What’s the reason for this turnaround?
In the first phase in India, KKR could secure only two wins. With Pat Cummins available, the team was arguably more formidable. During the ongoing second phase, the Kolkata-based franchise has played four games, winning three and losing to Chennai Super Kings in the final ball of the match. They are playing without the fear of failure.
Examples are aplenty, the latest one being Shubman Gills’ approach against Delhi Capitals. The Sharjah pitch was sticky, the ball wasn’t coming on to the bat and Sunil Narine had spun a web around DC batsmen, so much so that there wasn’t a single six in DC’s innings. Gill, on the other hand, attacked Axar Patel, an India spinner, at the outset. He charged down the track and hit the first six of the match. KKR always had a strong squad, covering all the bases. Now they have belief, personified by Venkatesh Iyer.
Why Dinesh Karthik didn’t click as a captain
Despite being a cerebral cricketer, Karthik never had the leadership pedigree. He had to lead by example. Once his runs dried up during last season, he was under pressure. KKR management still gave Karthik a long rope. Even after the team finishing fifth in 2019 and Moran returning to the side next year, he was retained as captain. But after just 108 runs from seven matches last year, his position became untenable.
What has worked to Morgan’s advantage?
Unlike Karthik, he is not under pressure to perform with the bat to retain his control on the team. Leading England to their first-ever World Cup glory in 2019, three years after his team finished runners-up at the 2016 World T20, made Morgan a high-profile captain. Even in English cricket, his authority is immense, attested by the fact that unlike the Test squad, he barely allows rotation in the England white-ball squads. At KKR also, his authority remains unquestionable, a string of low scores notwithstanding.
Morgan so far has scored 107 runs in 11 matches at an average of 11.88. He was asked about his batting form at the toss before the DC game. “My form not really a concern. It goes around like a roller coaster. I try to ride it as I can,” pat came the reply. After a natural bedding-in period, Morgan is now in the driver’s seat.
Does Morgan’s increased authority hint at a policy shift?
After an indifferent season in 2019, KKR didn’t change their captain, revamping their coaching staff instead. Brendon McCullum replaced Jacques Kallis as head coach. “This time around we wanted a different profile, someone who brings fresh ideas and new energy. We are the youngest side in the IPL. We wanted someone who has proven leadership skills, able to work with young players and manage diversity,” Knight Riders CEO Venky Mysore told this paper after the appointment.
KKR experimented with a set-up that featured a high-profile head coach and a low-profile captain in McCullum and Karthik respectively, which didn’t work. So the management seemingly have gone back to Gambhir’s time, with a strong captain in charge – a method that yielded success.
Captain or coach, who is more important in a cricket team?
After the 1992 World Cup triumph, then Pakistan captain Imran Khan was asked about Intikhab Alam’s – himself an ex-Pakistan skipper – role as the team’s coach/manager. “Inti ensured that we never had to face any problem,” Khan replied. Traditionally in cricket, almost all successful teams have had captains as their lead character, with coaches working in the background. From Khan-Alam to Virat Kohli-Ravi Shastri via Sourav Ganguly-John Wright and MS Dhoni-Gary Kirsten, the template hasn’t changed.
In the IPL also, Rohit Sharma is the main man in the tournament’s most successful franchise, with Mahela Jayawardene playing second fiddle at Mumbai Indians. Dhoni is the unquestionable leader at three-time champions CSK.
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