Having started their IPL 2019 campaign on a high with two comfortable wins on home soil, Kolkata Knight Riders now move into away mode and their first challenge will be Delhi Capitals on Saturday (March 30).
Robin Uthappa, one of the stars of the previous match against Kings XI Punjab, said that with KKR playing four away games on the bounce, a winning start to the sequence will help the side gain momentum for future games.
"This is our first away game, so it is very important that we win this game as winning away games are always tougher," said Uthappa on the eve of the crucial encounter at Feroze Shah Kotla.
"I think the importance of away wins is extremely critical in a tournament like this. And since we have got four away games on the bounce, to get a good start on the first one is very important to keep that momentum going. We are very strong as individuals, we all know that as a team, we all understand that. But, I think understanding the fact that we need to create momentum on away games is also important and to create that momentum, to build that confidence is important."
All the spotlight after KKR's first two games has been on all-rounder Andre Russell. Twice has the all-rounder come in critical situations and twice has he delivered with utmost belligerence. In the first outing against Sunrisers Hyderabad, with his side needing 53 to win in the last three overs, Russell slammed an unbeaten 49 in 19 balls to take KKR home. Then in the second game against Punjab, the Jamaican pummelled 48 in just 17 balls to propel Kolkata to 218/4.
Uthappa said that Russell's role is of utmost importance as he brings a balance to the KKR side with his hard-hitting at the end combined with his wicket-to-wicket bowling and electrifying fielding.
"He plays a very important role so a lot of it depends on how he plays and how it comes off. His roles are extremely important, he understands the impact value that he has on the team say from somewhere like 180 to maybe 215, like the previous game," said Uthappa.
"There is an impact that he creates in the last four to five overs and it is important for him to have that sense of freedom, so it is would be great for him to be in a situation where he can go after each ball that he faces.
"And I think the fact that he led the Jamaica Tallawahs in the CPL has given him a sense of responsibility towards the team. He looks at himself as a senior statesman in the group and wants to make every outing of his count. He understands the value that he brings to the side."
While Russell has hogged most headlines in the two wins, Uthappa too has played his role to perfection. An aggressive batsman himself, the 33-year-old has curbed his natural instincts and played the sheet anchor. His scores of 35 (27) and 67 (50) were as important as they helped build a foundation for the rest of the batsmen that. followed.
Speaking about his new role, Uthappa said that he was happy to play at any position the team management wanted him to.
"I can play an innings like I did in the last game and yet it flies under the radar completely. But, one needs to do that for the sake of the team to set up a total like we did. I think it becomes extremely important to setup a good total for the team," said Uthappa.
"Being able to play that role of a sheet anchor where you hold one end together so that the others can go out and express themselves, that is also a role to be played in itself. I understand that, it is a requirement of the team and that is something that I love doing. Serving the team is of my utmost importance.
"I think in the last game, my strike-rate was 134-135 and you understand that is the average you want to be playing at. Say, for instance, Russ had gotten out then I would have had to take the onus on myself to score those runs, so I would have played more aggressively. But, that point in time when Russ is batting, it is a no-brainer for me to give one of the best hitters in the world strike, in spite of me, batting past 50, in spite of me knowing what the bowlers are doing. You have to do the sensible thing, you have to know what's required for the team ahead of what you want to do for yourself and it is a call that needs to be taken on the field."
Another talking point so far this year has been the slow surfaces like the one laid out in the Chennai in the tournament opener where Royal Challengers Bangalore were bundled out for just 70. Uthappa said that he was all for slow pitches but rank-turners should not be prepared especially in T20 games from a viewership point of view.
"T20 cricket is made for entertainment, it is competitive, but you have to have a whole wider perspective of what's happening as well. You want it to be evenly balanced," Uthappa remarked. "Slower wickets are fine but I think rank-turners are not conducive for T20 cricket.
"It doesn't serve the purpose. It is a batsman's game, it is what it is. People come out to the stadium to watch batsmen hit sixes and bowlers defy the odds and get wickets. For viewership, it does not paint a pretty picture, but it is what it is in the last few games and hopefully it changes moving forward."