Dinesh Karthik during his unveiling as the IPL captain for Kolkata Knight Riders in 2018. Image Credit: PTI

Dubai: The return of England’s World Cup-winning captain Eoin Morgan to Kolkata Knight Riders in the last auction does not pose any threat to Dinesh Karthik’s captaincy in the coming season, according to a top honcho of the high profile franchise in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

The buzz on the auction day in Kolkata in December was that Morgan could be a very handy Plan B for the Knights, co-owned by Shah Rukh Khan, should the senior Indian wicketkeeper-batsman be found wanting in his leadership skills during the fiercely competitive and long drawn tournament in March-April. It was not a well-kept secret last season that the easy-going ‘DK’ was under pressure due to reported differences in the dressing room following a sequence of poor results.

Speaking to Gulf News in an exclusive interview, Venky Mysore, CEO of KKR (and Red Chillies Entertainment), rubbished any such speculation. “There is no such plan at all. Our head coach Brendan McCullum was very clear from the first conversation we had that DK will continue as captain,” he said.

Mysore was clear in saying that this is Indian Premier League and should have an Indian captain.

“Just to remind you that under DK’s captaincy, we were one game away from the finals in 2018 and missed making the play-offs in 2019 because of NRR. Having said that, Morgan has clearly been the best leader in white ball cricket and of course with a World Cup to show.

His leadership qualities and track record will be invaluable to KKR and I am sure DK will greatly benefit from his presence,” said Mysore, who was instrumental in the turnaround of the franchise after some frustrating times in the initial years.

The Knights were one of the most talked about franchises in the auction this year, first overhauling their squad by releasing a number of old-timers (Robin Uthappa, Chris Lynn and Piyush Chawla) and using up the substantial chunk of their purse to rope in Australian speedster Pat Cummins for the highest ever price tag ($2.17 million) for a foreigner, Morgan and hard-hitting T20 specialist English opener Tim Banton. In a clinical decision, the management also replaced the head coach with the South African great Jacques Kallis making way for former New Zealand dasher Brendan McCullum, a former Knight himself.

I think it is safe to say that we are perhaps the most professionally run franchise with a clear vision to become the global leader in franchise cricket. One of the primary enablers has been the fact that our owners are hands-off and allow professionals to do their jobs

- Venky Mysore

“There are several reasons why teams make changes to leadership, coaching staff etc. In our case, we felt that we just needed a different perhaps a fresh approach, considering that we had assembled a very young team in 2018. We are quite excited about the new additions to the team as well as to the coaching staff,” Mysore reasoned.

The wisdom of breaking the bank for the injury-prone Cummins had raised enough eyebrows, but the KKR management is convinced that they have their reasons to back the decision. “We felt that the skills that Pat (Cummins) brought to the team were crucial in plugging some of the gaps we had as well as to take advantage of the conditions we have been playing under, particularly at home at Eden Gardens. The fee was not a factor. It was more the overall skills and quality that Pat brings. We couldn’t be happier with him coming back to KKR,” Mysore felt.

As the IPL heads into its 13th edition this year, the franchises have seemed to develop their own ground rules for the auction — be it through research, simulation and other practice.

Asked about the KKR routine every year, Mysore revealed: “In a short period of time, Tom Banton has become quite a sensation in white ball cricket. We have had scouts in virtually all parts of the world including India, who advise us on emerging talent. Our analyst, Srikkant along with Abhishek Nayar, our lead coach for the KKR academy and Omkar Salvi, our assistant bowling coach are working round the year with the scouts to help develop our strategy. It’s always nice to see it all coming together at the auction.’’

‘A premier brand in T20 cricket now’

It may not have been always a smooth ride for the Kolkata Knight Riders on the field, but the franchise has built up the reputation of being commercially the one of the most successful T20 franchises around the world during the journey. A study released by Duff & Phelps, a global advisory firm, last September showed Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings witnessing a jump in their brand value in 2019 — but KKR is the only franchise who has a foothold in the global market with their ownership of a team in the Caribbean Premier League.

“Our CPL experience has been fantastic. Trinbago Knight Riders (TKR) have won the championship thrice in five years and made the play-offs in the other two years. CPL will acknowledge that Trinidad has helped them increase their profile significantly, particularly in India. This experience gives us the confidence to keep looking at expanding along the same lines,” Mysore said.

A visit to the City of Joy during the auction showed that KKR had launched a major branding drive just for a day with hoardings on way to the airport. Explaining their philosophy, Mysore said: “KKR has clearly become the premier brand in T20 cricket and we have worked very hard to become perhaps the only global brand in T20 cricket. Our marketing team headed by Kaustubh Jha works very hard and keep coming up with innovative solutions to growing the brand. We are also very fortunate to get a lot of support from our brand partners, who invest in activating the partnership.

“I think it is safe to say that we are perhaps the most professionally run franchise with a clear vision to become the global leader in franchise cricket. One of the primary enablers has been the fact that our owners are hands-off and allow professionals to do their jobs.”