Eoin Morgan of Kolkata Knight Riders bats.
Eoin Morgan, captain of Kolkata Knight Riders Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

Eoin Morgan is England’s World Cup-winning captain. In the 2019 tournament, he had marshalled the English team so adroitly that it was rather strange to see him struggle with the Kolkata Knight Riders. So it was a relief to see him lead KKR to victory over the Punjab Kings. This could well be the turning point in KKR’s campaign in the Indian Premier League 2021.

True, the Ahmedabad wicket on Monday (April 26, 2021) was a lot different than the Chennai pitch, where KKR endured much of their grief. But the situation wasn’t too dissimilar, when they slumped to 17/3 against Punjab inside the powerplay. In the earlier games, KKR tended to buckle under pressure. Not this time.

Morgan didn’t seem to be interested in a repeat debacle. In the company of Rahul Tripathi, he led from the front, and their 66-run stand ensured that Kolkata lifted themselves from the basement of the leaderboard.

KKR still have lingering issues

The match encapsulated Morgan’s leadership skills. He took the onus on himself and steered the side to victory. That’s what captains do: play according to the situation. Their game awareness is the key. Morgan did what he’s been saying: batting deep into the innings. And he didn’t resort to the favoured all-out attack mode.

Although Morgan didn’t resort to his favoured all-out attack mode, he didn’t allow the Punjab bowlers to dictate the terms. For the most part, he eschewed risks, but was unafraid to skip down the track to hit the pace bowlers over their heads. That confidence emboldened Tripathi to follow suit. And KKR avoided the route that had led to their losses.

It doesn’t mean that KKR have turned around a corner. There are still issues. The openers are misfiring, and that brings pressure in the powerplay. Shubman Gill and Nitish Rana are players in the classical mould and attempts to make them play more shots haven’t helped. Perhaps, the best solution is to swap the places of Tripathi and Rana, who will then return to a slot where he’s scored plenty of runs. The other option is to have a pinch-hitter like Sunil Narine at the start. Whatever be the solution, we should see some change there.

If the KKR woes in the batting powerplay are sorted out, they could well be in the running for a playoff spot. Because on paper, they have solid batting. A batting that hasn’t fired consistently.

Bowling hasn’t been much of a worry. The decision to bring back Shivam Mavi at the head of the attack has worked out well. He’s nippy and can move the ball around. The youngster is a wicket-taker too. And mystery spinners Narine and Varun Chakravarthy choked out the middle overs well.

more right clicks

This could well be a bowling template that KKR could employ for other games, provided the conditions remain the same. But then Morgan has a propensity to attack. So don’t be surprised if there are changes.

The Punjab Kings have plenty to ponder. More precisely, their batting needs a relook. When the openers K.L. Rahul and Mayank Agarwal perish early, they are in trouble. There’s no one to anchor the innings. Chris Gayle’s utility and consistency have to be reviewed, and Nicholas Pooran’s poor run hasn’t helped. It’s time they gave Dawid Malan a chance. After all, he’s one of the most successful white-ball batsmen in recent times.

The delayed return of Ravi Bishnoi seemed to give more teeth to the Punjab attack. But Moises Henriques, Fabian Allen and Chris Jordan haven’t been impressive enough to ward off the return of the Aussies, Jhye Richardson and Riley Meredith.