Kolkata Knight Riders finished runner-up of the Indian Premier League last season. This time around, the team will eye the title under the leadership of Shreyas Iyer. The team’s CEO and MD, Venky Mysore, is confident that the conditions in Mumbai and Pune will help the team.
While it retained its core, KKR made some significant changes to its squad and the team management hopes those additions yield results in the long tournament.
Ahead of this year’s tournament, what are your thoughts on the team?
This auction, we knew, was going to be a new one. This was my fourth mega auction — 2011, 2014, 2018 and 2022 — and I told people that it will be different because in the previous auctions, there was the ‘Right to Match’ option. With ‘Right to Match’, you plan differently because you know that at a particular price, if you want to get your player back, you can still get him. Secondly, two new teams that came in were allowed to sign three players each, which means there were six fewer players in the auction, unlike in 2011, when two new teams — Kochi Tuskers Kerala and Pune Warriors India — came in, they were not allowed to sign early. They had to come to the auction and build their teams. Thirdly, there were a couple of interesting players who chose not to put their names in the auction. So, all of these put together, Rs. 220 crore more came into the action and there were fewer players, so naturally, you had more money to chase fewer players. You knew that it would be a bit tricky in terms of pricing. That was one part of it.
KKR has a new captain in Shreyas Iyer and some new players…
When we retained four players, we were very happy with the team. You try to make sure that you maintain a similar type of skill set and ideally your own players and ensure that the squad is built in a way where it can be effective in all conditions. We did not know whether we would be playing in Kolkata, UAE or elsewhere. Now that we will be playing in Mumbai and Pune, we need to make sure that it is a balanced side. We wanted to maintain the flexibility of what we call the hybrid players, who give you the option of playing anywhere — not just conditions, but positions also. Keeping these in mind, we were happy with the squad we built. But naturally, you are always in search of an Indian captain and to that extent, Shreyas is very much part of our thinking and planning. Nobody knows whether we could have got him onboard or not, but we got lucky, so the planning and strategy we put together worked for us. He is not only one of the youngest stars of Indian cricket, but also a very bright leader. You see him as a long-term prospect.
In the last couple of seasons, batting in the middle-order was an area of concern. How do you address that?
We were really not concerned about personnel, because the personnel we had in the middle-order were among the best in terms of their track record, potential and ability to come and do their job. Unfortunately, there were two things that happened: one was injury and second was (loss of) form and there is very little you can do about those things. Andre Russell getting injured and not being able to play the second half of the tournament was a huge setback for us. Then of course, you had two best middle-order batters, who were not in the best of forms. There’s not much you can do on that front either. As much as we would have wanted to have the same combination, we were lucky to retain Russell. Now, what happens is that you retained Venkatesh Iyer — a hybrid player — who opened the innings for us and did exceedingly well. Now he is playing in the middle-order for India. So, that flexibility is also there now. Similarly, now when you look at guys like Sam Billings and Aaron Finch — they can open or play in the middle-order. Also, we have got Mohammed Nabi, who is an outstanding all-rounder. Then there is Pat Cummins, who can do amazingly with the bat, or someone like Sheldon, who has done well in domestic cricket.
There are so many people who can come and do their job, when the captain and coach decide on the team combination. In an auction, it’s not easy to get similar personnel, but having said that, we were able to bring back several of our players. To get Cummins, Shivam Mavi, Rinku Singh, and Sheldon Jackson back was huge for us! It helps a lot in terms of continuity, team dynamics, strategy, culture.
The team has several senior players — Cummins, Finch, Ajinkya Rahane and Nabi — in its ranks, who have led national teams. Does this take the pressure off captain Iyer and also give the team enough leadership options?
One of the major reasons behind picking up Shreyas was that we knew he was our captain. He will be a leader for some time to come, there are no questions about it. But to have some kind of supporting cast around him is a big plus. I was half-jokingly and half-seriously telling someone that we now have both Australia’s red ball and white ball captains in our team. Even Sunil Narine is one of the brightest cricket minds I have ever met. He is so quiet, but is so sharp. Russell has been with us for 10 years, and he has captained for Jamaica, and then there is Rahane.
Apart from his IPL leadership, Rahane has very successfully captained India and the kind of experience he brings is incredible and for him to bring in that leadership quality is huge for us. So, net-net, you have a lot of experience around Shreyas. Bazz (Brendon McCullum), the head coach, has also been one of the most successful captains for New Zealand, so hopefully, it will all come together.