2021 seemed just another Indian Premier League (IPL) season for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), outlining their mediocrity and struggles of putting together a perfect combination, as they lost five of their first seven games played in the India-leg of the 14th season. The two-time winners however made an impactful return to the UAE leg, winning three of their four games to strengthen their playoff chances, their only defeat coming against Chennai Super Kings (CSK), in a last-ball finish last week in Sharjah. Yet there has been one factor that has troubled the KKR dugout throughout the two halves of the season - the form of their captain, Eoin Morgan.
"My form is not really a concern. It goes around like a roller coaster, I try to ride it as I can," Morgan said at the toss, ahead of the game against Delhi Capitals earlier this week. But walking in at No.5, with 60 runs more to chase from the remaining 9 overs, Morgan was dismissed for a two-ball duck. What adds to Kolkata's concern, and more importantly England's, given that the World T20 is less than three weeks away, Morgan has only two double-digit scores to show in this IPL season and none in his last ten limited-overs appearance that includes The Hundred.
In nine appearances this IPL season, Morgan has scored 107 runs at a run-a-ball rate, averaging just 11.9. Although IPL fans do familiarise these numbers with Morgan, 2020 season being the only stand-out year for the Irishman, where he averaged 41.8, scoring 418 runs in 14 matches at a strike rate of 138.4, England fans certainly do not. One of the best white-ball cricketers of the generation, Morgan has accumulated only 322 runs in all T20 competitions this year (including international duties), at a strike rate of 116.24 with an average of 15.33. The numbers are his worst returns since his rough patch in 2015-17, the period that saw him struggling to find a boundary almost every eight balls, while his dot ball percentage had soared to 35.
In 2019, Morgan bounced back with remarkable numbers, scoring 609 runs in the format at a strike rate of 170.58 while averaging 43.5. His boundary percentage increased from 13.2 during his period of struggle to an impressive 23 while he managed to hit a six every 8.5 balls, a significant increase from the rate of 19 deliveries.
Hence, Kolkata shelled out INR 5.25 crores to rope in the England limited-overs captain, who was among the few many strong middle-order hitting options in the IPL 2020 auction. And Morgan paid back with imposing numbers in the season that also saw him becoming the KKR captain.
However, his numbers have gone south since the beginning of 2021, where he has averaged just 15.33 and scored at a rate of 116.24 across competitions with a boundary every 7.4 balls and a dot ball percentage of 39, the numbers reminiscent of his poor returns during 2015 and 2017.
The period also saw him demoting himself down the batting order. On resumption of cricket in 2020, post the pandemic break, Morgan began international duties as a No.5 batsman in the Australia T20I series and even batted at No.6 against South Africa, India and Pakistan. His natural ability to hit sixes more often has urged him to take the finisher's role as against his usual role as a No.4, promoting Ben Stokes up the order.
Since September 2020, Morgan batted 15 times at No.5 or 6 for KKR, scoring 435 runs at a strike rate of 139.4 with a boundary every 5.5 balls. However, in 2021 alone, his boundary rate has been 7.5 deliveries in T20s, and 8.3 in IPL, which is only better than three others among 39 batters who have at least faced 100 deliveries. The number clearly outlines his declining attacking ability. According to a statistic in Cricket.com, Morgan's attacking shot percentage in T20s this year in the first 15 balls has been 61.6, his highest in the last six years. However, the same statistic fails to outline Morgan's declining ability to hit sixes at will, which has taken a sharp decline.
Despite his numbers, his role as a captain of Kolkata will save Morgan from getting dropped. But KKR will require more from their captain with Andre Russell injured and Kolkata in the final stages of their hunt for a playoffs spot.