Eoin Morgan has said that he has progressed well enough to have a chance to play in the Kolkata Knight Riders' season opener against the Sunrisers Hyderabad on April 11 after sustaining a hand injury that kept him out of the last two ODIs against India in Pune. Morgan, the Knight Riders captain, also called his side's spin attack "one of the best" in the tournament this season, adding that they could make a huge difference especially on the turning tracks in Chennai, where they will be playing their first three matches.
Morgan required stitches after splitting the webbing between his thumb and index finger while attempting to stop the ball during the first ODI last week. While he batted in England's unsuccessful chase in the match, he declared himself unfit after taking part in a fielding drill at training last Thursday.
"I feel a lot better than I did a week ago," Morgan said during a virtual press conference on Wednesday. "The plan moving forward is to remove the stitches tomorrow and continue to progress my batting in the coming days and fielding at the back-end of that. Given the time frame that I have available to me, it's looking very good."
While the Knight Riders could not out-bid other franchises at the auction for big names this year due to their small purse, they managed to buy Harbhajan Singh and Shakib Al Hasan, for INR 2 crores and 3.2 crores respectively. The experience of Singh, who previously played for the Chennai Super Kings, and Shakib further bolsters their spin contingent, which has the likes of Kuldeep Yadav, Varun Chakravarthy, Pawan Negi (who was also bought at the 2021 auction) and Sunil Narine.
"I think adding Harbhajan to our squad has strengthened us in a good way," Morgan said. "When you look at our spin department as a whole on paper it's one of the best in the tournament. You look at the options we have and the conditions we might play in, particularly in Chennai which notoriously can turn or at least raise the eyebrows of our spinners. I think it's an area that I think if we play well our spinners would play well. Our squad is very well-rounded and in certain departments it is very strong.
"The IPL is the biggest tournament in the world which has the best players. One of the challenges throughout is battle with injury and illness along the way. Whether you like it or not it happens throughout the season. Planning needs to be put in place to strengthen your squad in all areas. I think we did that in the auction."
The Knight Riders were left hurting last season majorly because of Narine and Andre Russell's poor outings, and with Dinesh Karthik's batting never hitting full tilt, they couldn't settle down on their ideal XI and their batting order remained fluid. Morgan, who took over captaincy from Karthik after seven games, had a breakthrough season as a middle-order batsman, making 418 runs in 14 innings at an average of 41.80 and strike rate of 138.41, but there were questions if his batting ability was left underutilised because he was pushed down the order to play as a finisher.
"One positive among all those was the versatility in the middle order and the flexibility to either promote Sunil or myself or DK [Dinesh Karthik]. The strength within that middle order. I think a lot of teams will not enjoy playing against us. So as it is one of the strengths of our side, we need to make the right call in when to play the best hand. That's one thing we learnt from last year."
In the 2020 edition, the Knight Riders finished with 14 points, the same as the teams that finished third and fourth, but an inferior net run rate among the three sides consigned them to fifth place.
"It is a supremely competitive tournament," Knight Riders CEO Venky Mysore said. "You reflect back and think of every single run that made the difference. Last year after we missed out on qualification on NRR, somebody pointed out to me that the difference was just about eight runs for the entire tournament. That's how close the entire tournament is. It is a tribute to the quality of the tournament. We have to be on top of our game. The beauty of KKR is that we are always a contender. Hopefully some stars need to align in a long tournament like this. Hopefully we'll go the full distance this season."