“If we’d have contributed a little better, then the game could have gone the other way.” According to Rahul Tripathi, this was the unanimous sentiment in the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) dressing room after they fell short by 18 runs against the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) on April 21.
Chasing 221 on a belter of a Wankhede track, KKR found themselves tottering at 31 for 5. But Andre Russell, Dinesh Karthik and Pat Cummins almost pulled off an extraordinary coup. Russell smashed 54 off 22 balls, Karthik played the perfect second fiddle with a 24-ball 40, and an unlikely saviour in Cummins grabbed eyeballs and finished with an unbeaten 66 off 34 balls.
“If we would have finished that game and won that game, then it would have been one of the greatest chases,” Rahul Tripathi said.
Well, in all fairness, that summed up KKR’s performance in the now-curtailed IPL 2021. Eoin Morgan’s boys languished in seventh position – with just 2 wins from 7 games – when the league came to a halt on May 4.
A solid opening combination, Morgan’s astute captaincy, a lethal bowling line-up and a world-class middle order – everything pointed towards success. But the team and its players couldn’t live up to the expectations leveled at them at the start of the tournament. KKR failed to bridge the gap between raw materials and final product in what turned out to be a campaign of ‘ifs’ and ‘could haves’ for them.
But amidst all the chopping and changing, the constant shuffles in the batting order, the disappointment and the tension, there seemed to be a constant factor. Not just by his place in the side but also by his performances, with the former an automatic by-product of the latter. 30-year-old Rahul Tripathi made the No. 3 position in the KKR playing XI his own.
Nitish Rana might have been KKR’s highest run-getter at the halfway mark with 201 runs under his belt. But Rahul Tripathi’s 187-run aggregate helped his side bridge the gap between a misfiring top order and an unsettled middle order. And most importantly, those runs came at a higher strike rate than both the openers’.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Rahul Tripathi revealed that KKR head coach Brendon McCullum wanted him to play an aggressive brand of cricket while not bothering much about the wickets column.
“You could say that a little bit of aggressiveness. Our coach McCullum wanted us to play a particular brand of cricket, my role was to keep up the strike rate and keep the run rate going. That role was given to me this year, and I was happy to have executed that in two to three games and would have liked to continue,” Rahul Tripathi said.
The Maharashtra lad maintained a strike rate of 135.50, while Nitish Rana and Shubman Gill scored at 122.56 and 117.85 respectively. You don’t expect these numbers from the opening batters of a side coached by Brendon McCullum and captained by Eoin Morgan, both of whom have revolutionised the art of white-ball batting (read hitting).