There has been speculation in the media around the Kolkata Knight Riders as they slipped deeper and deeper into a slump. Questions were asked about Andre Russell's batting position, with the man himself wanting a promotion to No. 4. The captain Dinesh Karthik said there was no need for such a measure, but soon after that the coach Jacques Kallis admitted that there might be times when they had to be more flexible with their line-up.
This was only one of the issues that KKR have had to deal with in IPL 2019. Their bowling has been struggling and their fielding too hasn't been all that great. A repeat of those failings against Mumbai Indians on Sunday could easily have seen them out of the IPL and added further voice to those calling for a change in captaincy. But, even after they were put in to bat at a ground where most teams win chasing, Karthik and his men were able to come away with victory, after which he took a little time to talk about how the dressing room has been during a difficult period.
"It's a high pressure sport, a high octane tournament, you've got to make sure everybody's in a great space, give them the best chance to do well and stay healthy," he said at the post-match presentation. "A lot of bickering and back-biting can go on in these sorts of situations. I'm very aware of it and [I] make sure nothing like that happens. At the end of the day, it's a game. You play the best that you can. You need to keep a smile. You need to be nice to others. Everybody's trying hard. I always believe that at the end of the day it's a game. We all go back home and we need to be happy. I think they need to make sure they have a great experience playing with me. It shouldn't be all about, 'oh that guy was so bad when we lost'. I was very aware of that."
It was - almost predictably - Russell who won the game for KKR, scoring an unbeaten 80 off 40 balls and picking up 2 for 25 as well. "He's a special player for us," Karthik said. "He's a special player in this tournament. It's good to see him grow as a player. The way he handled some of the challenges thrown at him with maturity is what I like the most. I was just talking to him about that."
There is, though, one problem having such a big-hitter in the team: losing balls at practice. "Yeah, I mean these balls cost a lot," Karthik joked. "I was just telling him to calm down a little bit. He's just hitting it too far."
Hardik Pandya matched Russell shot for shot, scoring 91 off only 34 balls, but with 48 needed off 13 balls, he mis-hit a Harry Gurney short ball and was caught at long-on.
"Credit to Hardik, the shots that he played, brilliant, out of this world," Karthik said. "Credit to my bowlers as well. At some point in the game, everbody's thinking, wow this could go the other way. But at those kinds of situations, I think we held our nerve. I think it was important in these kinds of games. One bad shot is all you need at a certain stage and we kept believing in that."