After their last-ball defeat against the Chennai Super Kings on October 29, the Kolkata Knight Riders had done a dance routine down the IPL 2020 points table going 5, 6, 7, 8 after every subsequent game because while they had lost, the teams clustered around them were winning. Before their last league match, against the Rajasthan Royals, it didn’t seem anomalous that the Knight Riders were at the bottom of the table, even though five teams were on 12 points.
In a way, the Knight Riders’ position mirrored that of captain Eoin Morgan, who had become the batting mainstay of his side almost seamlessly. His team had gathered as many points as the others, but without quite as much of a flourish. Morgan had gathered runs as consistently as anyone else, but without that one barnstorming performance.
It took one match, for both perceptions to course correct. The Knight Riders needed a spectacular win, and it was delivered on the back of a spectacular innings against the Rajasthan Royals.
Morgan almost downplayed his 68 off 35 that drove the Knight Riders to a total of 191, saying dew had set in early which meant the ball was coming on to the bat better from the first innings itself. The facts are, that in a must-win game for both teams in which both came out swinging hard, only Morgan could score at the pace at which he did, for the length of time he did. Nobody else on either side made more than 40. Nobody who faced at least 20 balls approached his strike-rate. Pat Cummins’ bowling played its part in an eventual 60-run win for the Knight Riders, but arguably, Morgan’s contribution was even more important.
His innings ticked some minor boxes in getting him a first half-century in IPL 2020, but that was incidental. Measuring the number of half-centuries for a batsman without context is anyway archaic in T20 cricket.
But even by conventional measures, Morgan has had a quietly standout season for the Knight Riders. He’s crossed 400 runs, and in 14 innings, failed to go beyond single-digits just twice. Half of his innings have been scored at strike rates above 140. He’s been the team’s best batsman by some distance. And he’s done all this in a season where he was part of a captaincy change midway through the tournament.
Before 2020, Morgan’s record in the IPL was decidedly tepid: an average of 21.35 at a strike rate of 121.13 across 52 matches. This year, the average has been 41.80 and the strike rate has jumped to 138.41. The value his batting has brought for the Knight Riders is understood better when seen through ESPNcricinfo’s Smart Stats, which give weightage to performances based on oppositions, match situations and the period of play in which runs are scored. Morgan’s Smart Runs tally is 445 – the fifth highest in the league. Only KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, David Warner and Mayank Agarwal have more Smart Runs than Morgan.
It’s illustrative of just how valuable Morgan’s runs have been that the four men ahead of him are all openers, the position that has the maximum opportunity to pile on big scores in T20 cricket. Morgan has come in to bat on an average in the tenth over this IPL. If he has come in earlier, it’s because there has been a top-order failure. To still outscore a whole bunch of pedigreed batsmen who bat from Nos.1 to 4 in various teams, speaks to the dual aspect of Morgan’s batting this season: he’s got runs consistently, and he’s got them at rates that have been above-par for the match.
Sometimes, like on Sunday against the Royals, stunningly above par.
Morgan himself focussed more on the collective effort than his own knock. “Given the conditions, how good they were…. everybody in the middle order felt that you had a few balls to take your time and then you could hopefully take advantage later on in the innings,” he said at the press conference after the game. “Managed to do that, Andre Russell managed to do that, and a number of our other batsmen managed to contribute in posting a score of 190.”
The words were understated, much like his tournament has been. It could be the way the tournament ends for Morgan and the Knight Riders, with their progression now dependent on the results of the two league stage matches that remain. Morgan himself didn’t appear too fussed, saying he was satisfied the Knight Riders had done all they could to stay in contention with that dominant show against the Royals.
“I’ll have an eye on it in the background, but there’s nothing that we can control in that, so what will be, will be,” he said.
Regardless of whether the Knight Riders make the playoffs or not, it’s been a breakthrough season of sorts for Morgan, the batsman. He has had sustained success in a competition he hadn’t cracked previously. He’s handled a transition of leadership mid-season, a tricky enough thing to manage on its own. And he’s done it when two of the greatest T20 players of all time in Russell and Sunil Narine have been unavailable for selection at various points.
If the playoffs happen, he’ll get another chance to add a striking innings to the IPL 2020 memory bank. If not, he’ll have to wait and see if this batting upswing can be carried over when the IPL is played in India. Either way, what will be, will be.
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