After a fast start to last season, KKR faded towards the back end of the round-robin and missed out on the playoffs on NRR. At least that is one interpretation of events, the other would be to point out that they finished only a point off the bottom! Consistency always appears to be a problem for the Knight Riders but they have spent big in the auction to try and bring in the calibre of player to overcome those problems.
Big-hitting Chris Lynn has been replaced at the top of the order with KKR bringing in Rahul Tripathi from Rajasthan Royals and the exciting young English talent Tom Banton in his place. Banton played alongside Lynn and AB de Villiers at Brisbane Heat during this year's BBL and looked more than capable of matching if not bettering their destructive capabilities in his first franchise tournament. Banton may well have to wait for his opportunity simply because KKR have more experienced and established overseas players to fill the 4 slots available to them but as an English fan I'll be keen to see him get a chance at some point at this level. Tripathi is a solid bet at the top of the order and would probably benefit from being given an extended run in one position having been shunted up and down the order while at Rajasthan Royals these last couple of seasons.
Sunil Narine will almost certainly open with one of those 2 and we all know what he is there to do. The big concern for him with both bat and ball is his ongoing fitness issues. He managed just 12 matches in last year's tournament and struggled with another finger injury during this year's CPL. His international ambitions were boosted by a call-up to the West Indies T20 squad and he will no doubt be looking to prove his fitness for the World Cup that starts later this year. Of course, he's not the only big-hitting West Indian that KKR will depend upon in this tournament who also has a poor fitness record. Andre Russell is the most dangerous lower-order hitter in the T20 game at the moment and regardless of who you support the image of him striding towards the crease in the final third of innings will make any cricket fan put down what they are doing and watch the mayhem commence. With a fit and firing Narine and Russel in the top 6, KKR have both a powerful batting line-up and plenty of options with their bowlers. If one or both are struggling to play at 100% though then you feel this could be a long season for them.
Andre Russel hit 20+ in an over on 5 separate occasions last season
Sandwiched in between those 2 power hitters, KKR can call on the experience and leadership qualities of Dinesh Karthik and Eoin Morgan who will likely fill the number 4 and 5 positions. A wonderful unbeaten 97 aside, Karthik had a dreadful time of it last year and a return to the kind of form he showed in 2018 will surely be a necessity should the Knight Riders have designs on making it to the playoffs. By contrast, Eoin Morgan is in the form of his life in T20 cricket at the moment as he looks to lead his adopted country to a second major trophy in the space of just over 12 months. Morgan averages 66 from his last 10 iT20 games and has played matched winning innings from the middle order in several of those outings.
Eoin Morgan's last 10 iT20 innings for England
For me, however, the real excitement for watching KKR this year will be to see how the young local players Shubman Gill and Nitish Rana will have developed over the last 12 months. Both players had solid seasons in 2019 and with the likes of Chris Lynn and Robin Uthappa no longer around it seems likely that they will be given even more chance higher up the order to influence matches. Gill has already represented his country and with India's batsmen struggling in New Zealand in both the 50-over and Test formats a successful IPL would surely thrust him to the front of the selectors thinking should they decide to mix things up for future tours. Rana meanwhile is yet to be capped by his country (something to look out for in the Dream 11 fantasy league) but was KKR's 3rd highest run-getter last year and led the scoring charts for Dehli during this season's Ranji Trophy. Rana was used as a bit of a floater in last year's competition, batting anywhere between 1 and 7 so it'll be interesting to see how KKR utilise him this time around. The only slight cloud hanging over Rana at present is that he is the latest Indian batsman to be accused of age fraud with the player currently being given time to find sufficient documentation to prove how old he is! I'm not even going to try and wade into the politics and bureaucracy at play here, suffice to say that any ban for the player would be a major blow for KKR.
While the likes of Kohli, Pujara and Rahane have struggled against New Zealand, Gill has been filling his boots on the "A" tour that is running parallel to the Test series
For all their explosive power with the bat, the big problem for KKR last year was undoubtedly a lack of penetration with the ball. Dre Russel and Sunil Narine topped the wicket-taking charts and once again their injury concerns going into the tournament mean that KKR were always going to spend big on a player who could at the very least add 15 wickets in a season to their cause. Pat Cummins is the man who's been chosen to do that and following a stellar 2019 there is no reason to suspect that the Australian quick won't be the man to get KKR the powerplay wickets that they lacked last time around. With Lockie Ferguson, Harry Gurney and Pradesh Krishna as back-up KKR will hope that they have sufficient firepower coming into the 2020 tournament.
On paper, KKR's spin attack looked very dangerous last year with Narine, Kuldeep Yadav and Chawla offering Karthik variety and wicket-taking options throughout the innings. The reality, however, was between them they managed just 24 wickets less than Imran Tahir took on his own for CSK. Chawla has since been released to CSK while Kuldeep Yadav's form shows no signs of recovery. KKR have brought in Varun Chakravarthy who went for big money to KXIP in last year's auction, played just once in 2019 before being released and then going for a fair chunk of change once again for 2020 - nice work if you can get it. Chakravarthy's form in domestic cricket is undoubtedly what has convinced these franchises to shell out for him but it remains to be seen if he can transfer that wicket-taking onto the big stage. KKR have also done a shrewd bit of business in bringing in Chris Green whose ability to contain in the Powerplay makes him a good back-up should Narine's finger continue to limit his game time.
Kuldeep Yadav was taking a wicket every 4 overs in ODIs during 2018 but has struggled to maintain those standards over the past 12 months
Predictions and Betting
It's very difficult to gauge how successful KKR will be. I don't doubt that with bat in hand they will continue to entertain but over the course of a season, success in T20 cricket is usually defined by having a consistent bowling attack. Cummins undoubtedly adds to the side in that respect but at the same time he can only do so much himself and there remain too many question marks over the form and fitness of others to back KKR to reach the playoffs.
Batting wise, I'm hoping to see Shubman Gill establish himself in the top 3 of this KKR side and score the kind of runs that they missed last year. He is a natural stroke maker of the highest order and has the potential to be a success at the very top levels of the sport.
Bowling wise, it's hard to look past Cummins just because he has been so consistent in all forms of the game these past couple of years and as noted above will be carrying the weight of this KKR bowling attack on his broad shoulders.