Kolkata: Even as Kolkata Knight Riders failed to make the playoffs, by losing their must-win game against Mumbai Indians on Sunday, it was the manner of surrender that caught the eye bringing to the fore the feud within the team that cost them dear in this edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Needing to win against Mumbai on Sunday to qualify for the play-offs, two-time champions KKR slumped to a nine-wicket thrashing at the Wankhede Stadium to crash out of the T20 tournament for the first time in three years.
It did not need assistant coach Simon Katich to point out that there was discontent on the field and among the players, but the fact that he washed the dirty linen in public laid bare the mood in the camp which Andre Russell had spoken about recently.
“There is no doubt and we can’t hide from the fact that there was some tension on the field. That was pretty evident in the last, I guess, few games after we got into a bit of a roll with losses. We have to address that as a group,” Katich said at the post-match press conference.
It started with Andre Russell speaking out in public that he should bat at No.4 after KKR’s slide started. Russell has been their mainstay this season, so much so that over-reliance on him hurt them on Sunday as Robin Uthappa and skipper Dinesh Karthik failed miserably.
Russell went on to question Karthik’s leadership by highlighting the team’s bad decisions in a fiery presser ahead of their home game against Mumbai Indians.
“We have been a good team making bad decisions,” Russell had said, slamming Karthik’s leadership qualities.
On Sunday, after being 49 for 0 at the end of the Powerplay, KKR showed they did not pay heed to what Russell had said as Karthik came out to bat and not Russell. Karthik and Uthappa, who laboured to 40 off 47 balls, shared a 16-run stand for the third wicket which consumed 26 balls.
Russell was dismissed by Lasith Malinga first ball for a duck but the fact that KKR missed a trick, not for the first time in the competition, was not lost on anyone.
After their fifth loss on the trot against Sunrisers Hyderabad on the road, some of the senior players including Karthik and Uthappa went to Mumbai and did not travel with the team back to Kolkata, raising quite a few eyebrows.
It was learnt that Shah Rukh Khan, the team’s owner, was not happy with the performance and also expressed his displeasure at the over dependence on Russell. Though head coach Jacques Kallis said that the boys needed “some time off”, everybody read between the lines.
After KKR’s loss to Rajasthan Royals at home, their sixth in a row, Karthik was also asked about his captaincy being questioned, to which the 33-year-old stumper-batsman had said that he expected these sort of questions to come his way.
KKR’s season began brightly, but tension in the dressing room added to the problem as they lost track and kept on losing games. Even Shubman Gill, who after being sent to open the batting did so well, was under used, something the team management said was done due to “match ups”.
Generally calm, Karthik was seen giving a dressing down to his teammates during their game against Kings XI Punjab. KKR won and needed another win against Mumbai, when it all came apart. Russell cut a forlorn figure on the field, even losing his cool for a bit while fielding and Karthik too did not wear a happy look.
“Through the whole tournament, we’ve been good a lot of times, bad at a lot of times, but this tournament is such that we had to play consistent cricket and we were not up to the mark,” Karthik conceded at the post-match presentation.
“It’s been decent. I don’t think it’s the best season that we’ve had. There’s definitely a lot of areas for us to improve and come back stronger next time.”
It remains to be seen whether there is an overhaul next season, but the 12th edition of the competition was much beyond KKR’s on field poor showing.