After the Kolkata Knight Riders sank to their fifth defeat in seven games, a "very disappointed" Brendon McCullum said personnel changes loomed, with an eye specifically on scoring quicker in the top order. The coach said what disappointed him in particular was that his batters had not been more expansive in the seven-wicket defeat to the Delhi Capitals in spite of repeated exhortations to go after the bowling.
The Knight Riders' top three of Nitish Rana, Shubman Gill and Rahul Tripathi cobbled together a combined 77 off 67 balls, before Prithvi Shaw slammed a 41-ball 82 in reply.
"It's very, very disappointing," McCullum said. "I think as a player, you ask to be given freedom and confidence and loyalty when it comes to selection, to go out there and take the game on and try and be aggressive... and to try and make things happen for your team. That's the style of play which both myself and the captain [Eoin Morgan] have asked of our players. But unfortunately we're not quite getting that. We're certainly not getting it in the abundance that we need.
"What we saw from Prithvi Shaw tonight was the perfect template of how we want to play. You're not always going to be able to hit every ball for four or six, but you can have the intent to do so, particularly when you're given a free licence. It's very difficult if you don't play shots to score runs, and unfortunately tonight we didn't play enough shots. It's become a bit of a theme. A saying that I've used throughout my career is that 'If you can't change a man, change the man.' So we'll probably have to make some changes and try and bring in some fresh personnel who will hopefully take the game on a bit more."
In a clear reference to his top order, McCullum said that runs at the top against a new ball and with field restrictions in place were imperative, especially given the slow nature of the surfaces in IPL 2021, where so far teams have often found it difficult to tee off at the death.
"Look, on a slow surface you've really got to maximise the new ball and the fielding restrictions," he said. "One thing we have to get our heads around is that in T20 cricket, you've got to part from the old-school mentality of trying to find a boundary and then get a one. You've got to try and put some pressure back on the opposition bowlers. If you get a boundary, then look for another, and then look for another one. If you're able to do that, then the opposition bowler is under an immense amount of pressure and normally what happens then is they don't execute. Then you can have big overs, and that allows you to be able to build into an innings, create those partnerships and those sizeable platforms.
"You're not always going to be able to hit every ball for four or six, but you can have the intent to do so, particularly when you're given a free licence. It's very difficult if you don't play shots to score runs." Brendon McCullum
"It's very difficult if you're not trying to look for boundaries for that to happen. So it's more of an application thing than it is anything else. It's incredibly disappointing because I've asked time and time again for us to be more aggressive and more expressive and take the game on, and we continue to not do it. So we're going to have to make some changes for sure."
The Knight Riders openers - Rana and Gill - are striking at less than 125 so far in the tournament, and are in the bottom five among the 15 openers who have faced at least 40 balls in IPL 2021. On the bench, they have Venkatesh Iyer (T20 strike rate 137.64), Karun Nair (131.47), Sheldon Jackson (117.09) and Gurkeerat Singh Mann (123.74) to choose from among top-order batters.
The Knight Riders think-tank had decided before the tournament that their most devastating weapon - Andre Russell - was best utilised if deployed around the 12th over. But, even though Russell has been coming in to bat as planned, he hasn't always been able to express himself freely because a sound enough platform had not been laid. Against the Capitals, Russell walked in at 75 for 4 in the 11th over, eventually dragging the side to 154 for 6 with his big-hitting, which still proved woefully inadequate when Shaw got going.
"I had a conversation with Andre at the start of the season. We look at a lot of stats and facts and try to back what's the best place for him," McCullum said. "Ideally with the right platform, beyond 12 is what we agreed on, but there are times when he's going to have to come in a little bit earlier. Today he came in slightly earlier. It actually allowed him to settle a little bit, but he really couldn't play with the same freedom, because we had fallen into a bit of a hole. It was only his brutal power towards the end which allowed us to post any sort of total.
"The other day he came in, the game against Chennai, the game was so far beyond us, he was able to come in and just try and take the game on. He has that ability. But I think, ideally, from 12 overs onwards is where he can do the most amount of damage with the least amount of risk. So it's really up to the rest of our guys to provide him with a better platform rather than asking him to do too much."
The Knight Riders next match is against the Royal Challengers Bangalore on May 3 at the same venue.