Dinesh Karthik won’t be leading Kolkata Knight Riders in this edition of the Indian Premier League. But then, the seasoned campaigner will be Eoin Morgan’s deputy and will have to step up, as and when needed, to ensure the team overcomes the odds.
Considered one of the lethal batsmen in the shorter format of the game, Karthik aims to spend a bit more time at the crease and convert steady starts into big scores, when the IPL begins on April 9.
In a chat with Sportstar before entering the team’s bio-bubble, the India international spoke about the season ahead and his expectations.
What is your aim for this edition of the IPL?
For me, the priority is to have a good IPL for KKR and do a lot better than last year. That’s the main aim.
This season, even though the tournament will be held in the country, the teams will not have an home advantage. How much of a challenge will that be?
Obviously, all the teams will miss home support. But in a pandemic situation, you don’t know whether crowds will be allowed and also some states will head to elections – so, you have to take everything into consideration. We played an IPL with zero crowd last year, so as elite players we are accepting the situation here and understanding that there is a good possibility of having no crowd. So, we are making peace with that but making sure that the quality of cricket that we play is top notch.
Ahead of the auction, the KKR team management clarified that they want to fix the loose ends. And in the auction, the franchise adopted a horses for courses policy. What are your thoughts on the current squad?
(Eoin) Morgan, (Brendon) McCullum, (Abhishek) Nayar and Venky (Venky Mysore) sir have been integral part of the auctions and in my books, they have done a fabulous job. As you rightly pointed out, it was about fixing the loose ends. Last year, some 10 more runs and we would have qualified, so it was a heart-breaking year. So, after going through that, they knew what we lacked. They were trying to plug in the gaps that were missing. There are just a few players, but very quality players that the team needed and they have gone exactly for that.
In a tournament like the IPL where every ball matters, KKR has struggled in the death overs. This time, how does the team plan to address it?
The answer to this question would depend on where we play and in what kind of wicket. If the wicket is slightly slow, then obviously, we will bowl a lot more into the deck. If the wicket has a lot of dew, then we need to try and bowl accordingly. If it is a solid batting wicket, then we need to try the yorker. It depends on the wicket. So, it is a hard question to answer, because it is also about the skill level of the bowlers and how they feel on that particular day, and what’s their go-to ball. There are a lot of variables.
In the 2020 edition, the players looked rusty in the initial stages. But this time, there have been a fair amount of cricket – both international and domestic. Do you think this puts cricketers from all the teams in a far better position as compared to last year?
A majority of players, who will be featuring in this IPL have played some form of cricket somewhere. Some have played domestic, some have played international cricket, so different players have done different things. This isn’t like the last IPL – where you came out of the lockdown, got into practice and then played the tournament. It is a lot different than what it was. We have played quite a few tournaments, so obviously the teams will be a lot well prepared.
Ahead of this season, is there any particular area that you are working on?
Nothing that comes to mind because you have played for so many years and you kind of know where you have gone wrong and what you need to do to improve. For me, it will be about spending a little more time at the crease. It is important that I get through the first five-eight balls and then get into aggression mode, that’s something I am definitely looking forward to.
Last year, Morgan was handed over the captaincy in the middle of the season. This time, since there will be no additional pressure of leading the team, will that help you to play your natural game?
I enjoyed my captaincy in the stint I had. When I thought that it was probably affecting my batting, I gave it up knowing that it is very important for me to contribute as a batter. Going into the season, the responsibility is far lesser than than it used to be, but having said that I have the role of a vice-captain and I know that I have to be there for the team and make sure that I get the runs and also at times, help out Morgan with a few things if required.
In the IPL, overseas players have a key role to play. KKR has some of the top names in its ranks, what are your thoughts?
Our foreign players have been fabulous. In the last three years, two players from KKR have been the player of the tournament in 2018 and 2019. It goes to show the depth of overseas players we have. We have some fabulous players and they always bring that ‘A’ game in the IPL and I am expecting nothing less from them because they are thorough professionals and they will come all guns blazing.
Over the last few years, KKR has managed to create a perfect blend of senior and junior players like Prasidh Krishna, Kamlesh Nagarkoti or Shubman Gill. How has it helped the team?
These youngsters that you speak about have a couple of years’ experience. They know what to expect in the IPL, so they have the experience in their kitty and that is going to help them in the tournament this season. The youngsters were completely new to the game three years ago, but after three seasons, they are far more prepared and know what to expect in the IPL.
Many players have been inside the bio-bubble for a long time, so coming into the IPL, how much of a challenge will it be for the teams to ensure that the players stay motivated?
You have to give a lot to KKR. They are a relaxed group, they focus a lot on having fun off the field, so that way, KKR is a blessed team. We have a set of people, who genuinely feel that it is important to have fun off the field, so the bubble life won’t be as tough as it is supposed to be. Though I must say that every individual has its challenges and it is going to be very important for KKR as a unit to take care of each and every player.
Since there will be some intense competition, what are your personal targets in IPL 2021?
Well, in terms of milestones, personally I am not a big goal-setter. But I like to focus a lot on the process and the practice and what are the things that I would look forward to executing during the tournament. When it comes to that, I think what is important for me is the team goal – which is to definitely try and qualify for the knockout stage. That will be the primary and most important target for me and the team.