On Thursday, IPL champions Kolkata Knight Riders become the first team to make a premature exit from the Champions League Twenty20 in South Africa – without winning a single match. After watching their team storm to the IPL title earlier this year, fans in Kolkata have been left heartbroken. How did it come to this?
Sunil Narine, the only KKR player to emerge with some success in South Africa, admitted that the team was under pressure in the CLT20 and that is why they underperformed. Well, if this is a reason then do they deserve to play in the world arena? In modern day cricket pressure is inevitable and players are quite familiar with this word 'pressure'.
KKR boast an enviable line-up of players, including some who carry the tag of modern-day greats such as Jacques Kallis and Brett Lee. Then there are Gautam Gambhir and Brendon McCullum, players with plenty of experience and success at international level. Even Narine has won an ICC World Twenty20.
Sunil Narine's reasoning that the pressure was too much for the Kolkata franchise rang hollow against poor performances from star players.
Is the CLT20 is a bigger tournament than the World Twenty? Is performing in front of tiny crowds in South Africa more pressure than packed stadiums at home? Can it be tougher than playing in front of a full Eden Gardens? According to Narine, being IPL champions put more pressure on KKR. Perhaps he has forgotten that Australia won the World Cup three times in a row.
Being defending champions should make a team proud and confident. Pressure will certainly be there but a champion team's mentality should not be any different. Probably Faf Du Plessis raised the right point when he said that IPL sides are failing to adapt to pitches and conditions in South Africa. Indian batsmen are not that comfortable on bouncy pitches and in seaming conditions and the CLT20 has proved it again. In the two matches that they batted, KRR had poor starts – none worse than when they slipped to 3 for 3 and then 24 for 4 against Delhi Daredevils - and that put pressure on the middle order.
Gambhir's form was another big reason for KKR's early exit. His string of Twenty20 scores recently - 5, 0, 31, 8, 0, 17, 45, 10, 10, 5, 3 and 6 - clearly effected the left-hander. Many are saying that Kallis's injury in the first match proved costly, but if that is the case then why was he picked up for the second match? If it was a serious injury then he should have been dropped. Kallis scored 0 in the second match.
Moreover, the team owner Shah Rukh Khan was not present in South Africa so the team could play even more freely - that is, if you can term his presence as an added pressure. If KRR can't cope up with such pressure then they shouldn't have come to play in this tournament. There was not a single KKR performance to speak of in the CLT20, leaving little for fans back home to be positive about. It wasn’t what was expected of a 'champion' team.