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Cricket news - The clock is ticking for demoralised KKR

Russell has been carrying KKR on his shoulders, but even he can't do everything everytime

Where do we even begin? Should we highlight the fact that their squad depth isn't as good as some of the other sides? Should we highlight the presence of an inexperienced Indian pace attack? Or do we analyse how they have been a one-man team who himself isn't being utilised wisely? Kolkata Knight Riders are in a mess.

They have put themselves in a mess despite winning four of their first five games. Following another good start to an IPL campaign, they went on to lose their next four games. And now, on Sunday (April 21), that losing streak extended to five. And it was a beating that has clearly left them demoralised.

After losing to Royal Challengers Bangalore in nerve-wracking fashion on Friday, they made three changes to their lineup. Like skipper Dinesh Karthik mentioned at the toss, a change was certainly required to shake things up. Robin Uthappa, the experienced batsman who has been a mainstay in Knight Riders' batting lineup and their second ever highest rungetter, was replaced by Rinku Singh who had played just five IPL games before the one on Sunday against Sunrisers Hyderabad. Kuldeep Yadav, India's first-choice spinner in limited-overs cricket, was left out. His replacement? KC Cariappa, who had played ten games over three seasons coming into this game. And then there was a debutant Yarra Prithviraj who came in place of Prasidh Krishna, who himself came out of nowhere to be leading their pace attack since last season. Clearly, not the kind of personnel any team would want to pick when you are replacing some big names in the playing XI.

Did they commit a mistake by forcing these changes? Absolutely not. These calls had to be taken. Uthappa hasn't been at his best this season and the 20-ball 9 in a 200 plus run chase against RCB proved to the final nail in the coffin. Kuldeep has been carted around and he definitely needed a break with the World Cup fast approaching. Prasidh's tournament economy rate has been over 9 and hence there was a change required in that department as well. It was well known that Knight Riders possess a very good first-choice XI, but the quality alarmingly dips in the reserves. Last season, the first-choice XI delivered to carry them to a commendable third-place finish. But this time, things have changed.

Only Andre Russell and to an extent, Nitish Rana have been delivering. Chris Lynn is scratching his way to fetch some vital runs but he is nowhere close to his destructive best. Sunil Narine isn't amongst the wickets and the skipper himself needs runs badly.

"It's always part of the IPL," Karthik said after the game on the losing streak. "Once you get on a run where you've lost a match it puts pressure on the next match. When you win, you can always find ways to win and when you lose, you sometimes find ways to lose. I think these are all the challenges a team always faces in a tournament like this."

And then there is this Russell conundrum. Where should he bat ideally? He hasn't struck the ball as cleanly as he is doing at the moment. In three out of their four wins, he was named the man of the match. And at least on two of those occasions, the opposition thought they had the match wrapped up before he unleashed himself at the death dramatically to script an unlikely turnaround. Last time against RCB, he clearly stated how walking out to bat when the required rate is 14 isn't an ideal situation every time. Walking out to bat when there are only 27 balls left in the innings isn't ideal as well as seen on Sunday.

And when is out there in the middle, there's virtually no support from the other end which makes it even more difficult. On the field, when David Warner and Jonny Bairstow were doing their thing, killing the contest as early as in the powerplay, even Russell appeared to have gotten frustrated while standing at the boundary. Having carried this team on his shoulders so far, there's only so much a player can do. But according to Karthik, Russell isn't too fussed about his batting position and believes the allrounder can make the right kind of impact in his current slot.

"I think he's the kind of player even if he had played 10 balls, he'd have made an impact," Karthik pointed out.

"The key is that we play that well at the top of the order that we set it up for him. There's been no complaints form his side about the batting part of it. I think he's been happy with the place where he's going and he has a clear role in the team which he's trying to achieve every time he goes out to bat."

But surely after five losses on the bounce, the least they can do is try and get him up the order where he can potentially play 30 deliveries. And it might come as a blessing in disguise as well for Knight Riders since teams now prefer reserving their best bowlers for the 30-year-old. Sunrisers kept Rashid Khan's two overs for Russell on Sunday and other teams would want to follow the same template as well in the future. That could well play into Knight Riders' hands if the opposition decide to bowl out their best bowlers before the 15th or the 16th over.

Karthik kept walking out to each and every single bowler giving him a piece of advice whenever the ball was being carted around by the Sunrisers' openers. It seemed all too desperate with the shoulders dropping nevertheless. All they have now is four games left to turn things around. Do they go back to Uthappa and Kuldeep? Or make more radical changes in the XI? Or just promote Russell and hope he does his thing to win them games single-handedly? A different strategy is likely to be employed at the auctions next year but for now they need to act fast to save the current campaign. The clock is ticking.

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