Bottom-placed Knight Riders seek shift in gears against improving Punjab Kings

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Eoin Morgan’s men are missing aggression at the top, while KL Rahul and Co are just a step away from nailing their best XI

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After the Kolkata Knight Riders’ latest defeat – against the Rajasthan Royals on Saturday – their captain Eoin Morgan urged his batters to show intent throughout the innings, saying that they were behind the eight-ball from the get-go. That approach has worked well for Morgan and his England teams but is yet to produce the desired results for the Knight Riders, who are languishing at the bottom of the points table with four defeats in five games so far in IPL 2021.

One reason behind it could be that such an approach doesn’t bode well with the natural styles of the Knight Riders openers; both Shubman Gill and Nitish Rana are more anchors than aggressors. In the IPL, Gill has a strike rate of 120.10 in the powerplay, while Rana scores at 114.39 in that phase. What the Knight Riders can do instead is open with Gill and Rahul Tripathi, who has a powerplay strike rate of 141.43, and have Rana at No. 3.

If the top three can provide a solid platform, Morgan, Andre Russell and Dinesh Karthik possess enough firepower to build a skyscraper. But, for that to happen, the Knight Riders must ensure the trio faces enough balls to make a difference.

After three successive defeats, the Punjab Kings put their campaign back on track with a nine-wicket win over the Mumbai Indians. While Nicholas Pooran has got three ducks in four innings so far in the tournament, it should not be a concern at the moment. In fact, the Kings have got the top six slots in the batting line-up almost sealed. With Ravi Bishnoi doing well after coming in for M Ashwin, they are now one step closer to finding their ideal bowling combination too.

One thing the Kings would expect from their captain KL Rahul is to bat more freely, especially with the Chennai leg now over; and unlike Gill and Rana, he has got the gears to do that.

Likely XIs

Punjab Kings: 1 KL Rahul (capt & wk), 2 Mayank Agarwal, 3 Chris Gayle, 4 Nicholas Pooran, 5 Deepak Hooda, 6 Shahrukh Khan, 7 Moises Henriques, 8 Jhye Richardson/Chris Jordan, 9 Ravi Bishnoi, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Arshdeep Singh

Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Nitish Rana, 2 Shubman Gill, 3 Rahul Tripathi, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Andre Russell, 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Sunil Narine, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Shivam Mavi, 10 Prasidh Krishna, 11 Varun Chakravarthy

Strategy punt

  • Against right-handers in T20 cricket, Varun Chakravarthy has 14 wickets at an average of 30.92 and a strike rate of 25.5. Against left-handers, he has ten wickets at 11.60, striking every 9.4 balls. Therefore, the Knight Riders could consider saving Chakravarthy’s overs for Chris Gayle and Pooran instead of giving him the new ball against Rahul and Mayank Agarwal.
  • In the recent India-England T20I series in Ahmedabad, fast bowlers were more effective than spinners. Considering that, and with Deepak Hooda showing he can bowl a few overs of spin, the Kings may consider bringing in Chris Jordan or Jhye Richardson in place of left-arm spinner Fabian Allen.

Stats that matter

  • This IPL, Pat Cummins has gone for 9.6 runs an over while bowling in the first ten overs of a match. Moreover, he is yet to pick up a wicket in that phase. In the last ten overs of a game, however, he has conceded 8.74 an over while picking up four wickets.
  • Last season, Bishnoi dismissed Morgan twice in two games, both times with googlies.
  • Since IPL 2019, the Knight Riders have never won when they have scored 160 or fewer while batting first.

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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