Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) have made exciting signings but the veterans would be ultra-critical to whether a third Indian Premier League (IPL) title comes in the UAE this time, said chief mentor David Hussey.
“I am excited about all the signings. The overseas players haven’t arrived yet but we are excited to see Tom Banton play live, he was phenomenal in the Big Bash. But I think it is going to be the wily veterans in Dinesh Karthik, Kuldeep Yadav, Sunil Narine and Andre Russell who are going to be ultra-critical. They control the culture of the group and I think they are going to go a long way in helping the other boys, the newcomers, the youngsters,” said Hussey on Sunday.
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Calling Banton the ‘X-factor’ twice in a 12-minute session, Hussey said, “he is new version or better version of Kevin Pietersen.” Banton, 21, is a wicket-keeper batsman bought for Rs 1 crore at the players’ auction here last December. Playing for Brisbane Heat in Australia’s Big Bash League last season, Banton had a strike rate of 176.98 — Russell’s striker rate last year was 182.12 — on way to three half-centuries in seven games. Against Pakistan last month, Banton scored 71 (42b; 4×4; 6×5) and 46 (31b; 4×8) opening the innings for England in T20Is.
KKR’s opening combination is up for discussion, said Hussey not ruling out the possibility of Shubman Gill and even Russell partnering Sunil Narine who started the 2020 Caribbean Premier League with two half-centuries, aggregating 140 runs at a strike rate of 150.5, before missing games to have kidney stones removed.
With Australia vice-captain Pat Cummins and England captain Eoin Morgan in the side, Karthik shouldn’t be wanting for inputs on the field. Hussey even referred to Morgan once as vice-captain and said the presence of a 50-over World Cup winning captain should benefit Karthik.
“A classy player, he will be a great ally to Karthik, maybe fielding in the ring talking to bowlers. He is also a very cool, calm collected person who will be handy controlling things in the middle. We do expect them to have a good relationship so I think he (Morgan) will go a long way in winning many games for Kolkata Knight Riders during a very tight tournament,” said Hussey, 43.
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Russell, Karthik and Morgan will be the anchors in the batting line-up, he said. “If Dre Russ comes at 3 and bats 60 balls, he might actually make a double hundred. He is a fantastic player, probably also the heartbeat of the team as well.”
In hot, windy conditions with the wickets tiring at the three venues in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, Hussey said spinners would play an important part especially because “a lot of overseas players don’t play spin very well.” He didn’t agree that KKR are not well stocked in that department. “We have a well-rounded bowling attack,” he said.
KKR have Cummins, Lockie Ferguson, Prasidh Krishna, Sandeep Warrier, Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti among pace bowlers. Narine and Kuldeep Yadav are the frontline spinners with Varun Chakravarthy a left-field back-up option bought for Rs 4 crore. Karthik can also rely on Nitish Rana’s off-spin which got AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli in successive deliveries in 2018.
Hussey said he could focus on the batting side of things but described his job as “the all-round role clarity person” who, mostly through one-on-one interactions, will try and get the players to maximise potential by staying relaxed in pressure situations. The boys are “chomping at the bit” to go and play, he said, adding that it is a privilege to be able to play in the time of Covid-19.
Hussey and head coach Brendon McCullum were part of KKR from 2008-2010 when they were a struggling outfit riven with issues, from captaincy to coaching. “We hit it off straight away. We didn’t know each other very well at that stage but we get on really well now. We have disagreements in how we should play but it is always in good fun, no emotion. It will be fun working with a guy who has a similar take on the game to myself. If anyone knows McCullum; he plays the game at a 100 miles an hour and he encourages the players to take the game on,” he said.