Kolkata were behind the eight-ball in the run-chase against Mumbai Indians on Wednesday in the Indian T20 League and a lot of it had to do with how they stacked up the batting order. With the kind of hitting strength they have in the line-up, Kolkata were surprisingly under par in the run-chase, but there are legitimate reasons why they were so.
First up, Kolkata should not open with Sunil Narine in matches against teams that have strong pace attacks with hit-the-deck bowlers. Nikhil Naik's selection, in this respect, was bizarre considering they had the option to open with Rahul Tripathi alongside Shubman Gill.
Dinesh Karthik walking in at No. 3 was another error in judgement. While maintaining a left-right combination in the middle is vital against spinners in T20s, it isn't as crucial as it is made out to be against pace. It isn't like in Test cricket where bowlers are looking to stick to a rigid line that they should struggle to adjust when bowling to a different handed batsman.
Karthik's entry pegged Kolkata back even though you could argue he struck at a reasonable rate of 130.43. In the Powerplays in the Indian T20 League before today, Karthik averages 40+ but strikes at just over six runs per over. A gun death overs batsman, Karthik should have come out only later in the innings.
The Karthik - Rana partnership in itself was detrimental for Kolkata as it delayed the entry of Eoin Morgan and Andre Russell. When Karthik fell immediately after the 10th over and Russell walked in, Kolkata needed 125 in 59 balls. Morgan came in even later.
High-end T20 run-chases are often won and lost in the first half of the run-chase. By the end of the Powerplays, Kolkata were already fighting heavy odds in sneaking in a win. They needed 163 runs to win after the Powerplay overs when in the entire history of the Indian T20 League, only twice have teams scored more to win in the last 14 overs.
To compound it, Kolkata had the best T20 batsman, arguably, alongside another gun T20 batter in Morgan waiting in the dugout. They also have Karthik. Their 49-run loss, even considering how well Mumbai's bowled, is unacceptable.
They have the line-up to chase down most totals, so ensuring the right players are in at right times is crucial. Leaving it for too late has been Kolkata's major issue and more often than not they have turned to Russell to bail them out. If not for his consistency, Kolkata would be among the bottom two teams consistently.
Having a fixed batting order would be a massive blunder for most teams and especially Kolkata. They should be prepared to use Narine in a different role with teams now having worked out on how to push his weakness.
They should also be prepared to rotate between Tripathi, Nikhil Naik and Siddhesh Lad. Andre Russell, Dinesh Karthik and Eoin Morgan are best-deployed back-to-back but the entry point of each is crucial to how Kolkata fares this year. It's vital that they have Russell in before the game is completely out of hand. With Morgan and Karthik behind him, Russell can afford to play a blinder from the 8th or 9th over and should be tried earlier in the innings.
Feature image courtesy: Twitter / Indian T20 League