Despite being regarded as one of the powerhouses of the tournament, the defending champions are on the verge of a premature exit.
Eleven matches. Eight defeats. Kolkata Knight Riders, defending champions and regarded as one of the strongest teams in the league, are almost certifiably out of IPL 6. The stage has been reached where it is almost easier to say "insert previous match comments here" in describing how KKR have stumbled through IPL 6 like zombies, walking in circles with their groans getting louder as their hunger for success increases. Unfortunately for KKR fans, there has been no easy prey for this team.
It was tough to envision this scenario before the season began. Kolkata are led by Gautam Gambhir, India's Test and ODI opener and who shaped their dramatic upwards swing in 2011 and captained them to IPL glory in 2012. They have at No.3 one of the greatest allrounders ever in Jacques Kallis. Coaching the bowlers and at their disposal as strike bowler is Brett Lee, a great fast bowler with 718 international wickets to his credit. Then there is Sunil Narine, the all-sorts Trinidadian spinner who was a huge factor in Kolkata's run to the title with 25 wickets an average of 13.50 and economy rate of 5.47. There are also Eoin Morgan, Brendon McCullum, Yusuf Pathan and Manoj Tiwary. In Rajat Bhatia and Laxmi Ratan Shukla KKR have two of the best domestic stalwarts suited for the T20 format. Despite this, the team has failed to fire collectively.
A cursory eye over the stats for IPL 6 highlights a major part of the problem. Gambhir, the second-highest run-getter in 2012, has 320 runs in 12 innings. Morgan averages slightly more at 31.44 but has only one half-century. Kallis averages 22.09 with a best of 41 at a strike-rate of 103.40. Yusuf has crossed 27 just once. Tiwary's best is 33 and he has been sidelined with injury since April 27.
With the ball, L Balaji whose frugal bowling was instrumental to winning the title, as Gambhir himself acknowledged after the final, has managed just six wickets in ten matches. His average (50.83) and economy rate (7.92) are much higher than in 2012 (14.72 and 5.40). Narine has not conceded many runs (economy of 5.81) but has not been nearly as effective as last season; he has 16 wickets in 12 matches.
Compare these numbers to IPL 5. Gambhir finished with 590 at a strike-rate of 143.55, with six fifties. Kallis made 409 at 25.56, McCullum 289 at 24.08, and Tiwary 260 at 26. Kallis also chipped in with 15 wickets in support of Balaji (11 wickets at an economy rate of 5.40), Shakib Al Hasan (12) and Bhatia (13). Sri Lankan spinner Sachithra Senanayake was purchased before the season for $625,000. That eyebrow-raising price confirmed KKR's desire to have another spinner to assist Narine, but Senanayake has five wickets in five matches.
These are the numbers. Beyond them, KKR have not been consistent in any department. The days they have clicked with the bat and ball have been rare, and the failure of the big-name players has meant the team has struggled to launch big totals and defend smaller ones.
Let's take a look at their defeats. Against Rajasthan Royals, chasing 145, Kolkata were fatally jolted by two double-wicket overs from fast bowlers Rahul Shukla and Siddharth Trivedi. Only Morgan (51 off 38) crossed 22; Manvinder Bisla, Kallis and Yusuf tallied one run between them. Against Royal Challengers Bangalore the bowlers succumbed to Chris Gayle who larruped nine sixes, but equally telling was that only Gambhir (59) made a significant score. The next best was Yusuf's 27.
Perhaps the most telling loss came to Kings XI Punjab in game KKR dominated for three quarters. Narine's hat-trick had seemingly buried Punjab but a smashing cameo from Manpreet Gony lifted the score from 109 for 7 in 16 over to 157. Gambhir and Morgan had the chase in control before a three-over spell produced six runs and Gambhir's wicket to cue a manic collapse. KKR ended up four runs short.
Two defeats followed, to Chennai Super Kings by four wickets and Mumbai Indians by five wickets. Both games went to the last over but KKR were at fault both times. Against CSK they were kept to 119 after a 46-run stand was followed by a collapse of 9 for 61. KKR's spinners fought valiantly to defend that total but Ravindra Jadeja smoked 36 from 14 balls to seal victory. Against Mumbai, the innings unraveled after a busy start and even though KKR crossed the average first-innings score of 148 at Eden Gardens the bowlers, barring the economic Narine, failed to fire.
Then came the game in Chennai where KKR allowed the hosts score 200 for 3 and struggled to get a strong start. Bisla's career-best 92 was not enough to stem the flow of wickets. In the next match, KKR lost to Delhi Daredevils by seven wickets. Again, the batsmen were at fault and a total of 136 was not enough for the bowlers to defend. Their latest defeat in Mumbai was by the embarrassing margin of 65 runs. Chasing 171, the highest score was Kallis' 24. The last six wickets fell for 16 runs. Case closed.
Regularly, KKR have struggled to get starts. Their opening stands read: 19, 3, 0, 59, 0, 46, 27, 10, 32 and 4. In 2012, at the same juncture, they had opening stands of: 13, 8, 60, 22, 13, 53, 16, 95, 14 and 113. Significantly better, and by this time KKR had won seven of ten matches. Another reason for their poor form in 2013.
All put together, it just hasn't worked out for KKR this season. Inconsistency is the main reason, and their abject season mirrors the first two where they finished third last, last and third last. Clearly, staying on top has proved harder for Kolkata than getting there.