Playoff battle heats up as Kings XI Punjab, Kolkata Knight Riders look to waste no time

Big picture

It’s a mid-table clash but a blockbuster clash. A battle for fourth spot couldn’t have become more intriguing. Kings XI Punjab were at the bottom of the pile only 10 days ago. Suddenly, here they are now, having won four games on the trot, and looking for a fifth that will vault them into playoff contention.

Kings XI got out of jail, yet again, against Sunrisers Hyderabad; their death bowling coming good to defend 20 off the last three overs. The last 14 balls yielded six wickets and an epic choke that kept them alive.

One of the reasons for their improved death-overs bowling is 20-year old Arshdeep Singh. He’s flown under the radar, and doesn’t get talked about like some of his other India Under-19 batch mates from the victorious 2018 campaign, but Arshdeep’s hard lengths, cutters into the pitch and use of the crease and angles has allowed him to more than make up for his lack of pace. It has also helped compensate for Chris Jordan’s off days.

In addition, the threat Ravi Bishnoi and M Ashwin bring to the table has complimented a batting line-up capable of destroying any attack. They’ll want to however start winning much earlier, and not always take it into the final over.

The Knight Riders’ win on Saturday can be equated somewhat in a Tennis context to being 4-0 down in the fourth set, after taking a 2-1 lead, in the third round of a Grand Slam. They were down for the count at 42 for 3 just after the power play, but were sensationally launched to a mammoth score by Nitish Rana and Sunil Narine.

The confidence of runs also showed with the ball as Narine, bowling with half-sleeves – was that a statement? – delivered a telling spell in the middle to choke Delhi Capitals for runs after Pat Cummins did the early damage and Varun Chakravarthy finished with a deserving maiden five-for in IPL 2020.

So it’s a clash of two aggressive teams that will look punch and counter-punch. Kings XI know they simply have to win. Knight Riders, meanwhile, can take a step closer to the playoffs with a win. Even if they don’t, not all is lost, but they don’t want to be looking at the table when they can be masters of their own fate.

In the news

Mayank Agarwal, who missed Sunday’s game, is likely to return. Agarwal was rested after suffering body bruises while diving full stretch to avert a run out earlier in the week. His inclusion could mean one of Mandeep Singh or Deepak Hooda could miss out.

Knight Riders are closely monitoring Andre Russell, whose hamstring has been problematic over the years. He has been training regularly and is closely working with the physio. If they do decide to play him – a half-fit Russell could perhaps still hit big sixes in Sharjah – who do they leave out? Eoin Morgan is captain. Narine has just delivered a telling performance. Lockie Ferguson has made an immediate impact and Cummins is just starting to come into his own. It’s a really tough call.

Previous meeting

Kings XI needed 21 off 17, with nine wickets in hand. And then, somehow, they contrived to turn it into a situation where two new batsmen – literally; neither had faced a ball yet – needed to hit 14 off the last over. Against Narine. They fell two short.

Likely XIs

Kings XI Punjab: 1 KL Rahul (capt, wk), 2 Mayank Agarwal, 3 Chris Gayle, 4 Nicholas Pooran, 5 Glenn Maxwell, 6 Mandeep Singh, 7 Chris Jordan, 8 M Ashwin, 9 Ravi Bishnoi, 10 Arshdeep Singh, 11 Mohammed Shami

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

Strategy punts

  • Gayle v Narine: 177 balls, 153 runs. Five dismissals. Strike rate of 86. It merely confirms an established fact: Gayle isn’t the same force against spin, at least early on, as he is against the faster bowlers. That said, Sharjah is a small ground where even mishits carry for six. Knight Riders have two bowlers of the mystery kind. How about looking to finish overs of spin through Narine and Varun Chakravarthy while Gayle’s around? You’d be able to at least put a temporary lid on scoring or perhaps get him out if you’re lucky.

  • They have invested heavily in Shubman Gill. He’s even part of the leadership think tank, but sentiments aside, he has had one of the worst strike rates (112) for an opener this season – a shade below Aaron Finch and Ben Stokes – among those who has played more than five games. Maybe they could change things around and look to open with Tripathi with Rana.

  • Despite his good form, Knight Riders should look to resist temptation to open with Narine. Kings XI have two legspinners and Narine is lethal against them – striking at 211 in the 54 balls he’s played of this variety. So hold him back for them the spinners come on.

Stats that matter

  • Kings XI’s death overs economy of 8.8 is the best among all teams in the second half of IPL 2020

  • Maxwell has faced the second-most number of deliveries (100) without hitting a six this season. Ben Stokes hasn’t managed a six in 103 deliveries

  • Agarwal and Rahul’s 623 runs in 10 innings is the most an opening pair has put on in IPL 2020. Will they be reunited for Monday’s fixture?

Source link