Russell, Narine, 84 for 8 – Kolkata Knight Riders are in a hole, and Delhi Capitals will look to keep them there

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Remember this game? And this? And this one?

The Kolkata Knight Riders probably had no business winning any of those games, but win is what they did. They have only won two other games so far this season, and if those jailbreaks were taken away from them, they wouldn’t be where they are on the table.

Where they are is fourth, and within the playoffs’ range, but that can change quickly. There are teams currently outside the top four who have built a bit of momentum, and they know they can displace the Knight Riders, who have a distinct air of vulnerability about them after suffering a walloping at the hands of the Royal Challengers Bangalore. That defeat left the Knight Riders nursing the worst net run rate (-0.828) of all teams in the competition.

How do you bounce back from the lows of 84 for 8? How do you do that without Andre Russell or Sunil Narine, or possibly both? How do you begin the process of bouncing back when you’re up against the in-form Delhi Capitals, who are gunning for a top-two finish and are themselves looking to bounce back from – a less severe but still wounding – defeat?

There aren’t easy answers to these, but the Knight Riders will have to answer them soon. If they do, you might come to talk in hushed tones about those wins snatched from the jaws of defeat. “It’s the sign of a great team,” you might say, “when they win even when they aren’t playing well.”

If the Knight Riders slide away from the playoffs spots, however, you will look at those wins differently. You will look at them and say they were warning signs of a team in decline.

In the news

Russell injured his hamstring in the tied game against the Sunrisers Hyderabad and didn’t feature against the Royal Challengers. Narine was free to play that game, having had his action cleared, but he missed out because of what his captain Eoin Morgan described as a “niggle”. The fitness status of the two West Indians ahead of the game against the Capitals is not yet clear.

Previous meeting

Half-centuries from Prithvi Shaw and Rishabh Pant powered the Capitals to 228, but that total didn’t appear entirely safe in early-season Sharjah. Despite slipping to 122 for 6, the Knight Riders still came close in their chase, thanks to Morgan’s 18-ball 44 and Rahul Tripathi’s 16-ball 36. It came down to 26 from the last over, and Marcus Stoinis sealed victory for the Capitals with a pinpoint yorker to bowl Tripathi.

Likely XIs

Delhi Capitals: 1 Prithvi Shaw, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Shreyas Iyer (capt), 4 Rishabh Pant (wk), 5 Marcus Stoinis, 6 Shimron Hetmyer, 7 Axar Patel, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Anrich Nortje/Daniel Sams, 11 Tushar Deshpande

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

Strategy punts

  • Shikhar Dhawan (69*, 57, 101*, 106*) has scored exactly half of the Capitals’ runs over their last four matches, so his wicket – particularly with the rest of the top order suffering a dip in form – becomes crucial for the Knight Riders. How do they get him early? Well, since the start of the 2019 season, fast bowlers have only dismissed Dhawan four times within the powerplay overs. He averages 84.75 against pace while striking at a healthy 135.05. His strike rate against spin in this phase (159.82) is even better, but he’s been dismissed six times in 112 balls by the slower bowlers, so the Knight Riders could look to attack him with Varun Chakravarthy or – if he plays – Narine taking the new ball from one end.

  • Kuldeep Yadav has only bowled nine powerplay overs in his entire IPL career, but he’s not a bad candidate to try against Dhawan. In all T20 meetings, Dhawan has scored just 34 off 37 balls against Yadav, while being dismissed twice. The Knight Riders, however, might look to hold Yadav back for Rishabh Pant, who’s scored 23 off 21 balls against the left-arm wristspinner while being dismissed twice.

  • Dinesh Karthik has a shocking record against legspinners this season: 14 runs off 18 balls, five dismissals. Against all other types of bowling, he has scored 131 runs at a more-than-decent average of 32.75 and a more-than-decent strike rate of 135.05. Morgan has also struggled against legspin: one dismissal in 55 balls, but only 34 runs off the bat. The Capitals don’t have a legspinner in their first-choice XI, but if they wanted to give Sandeep Lamichhane an opportunity ahead of the playoffs, this wouldn’t be a bad time to do it.

Stats that matter

  • The Capitals are yet to win a match in Abu Dhabi this season. This will be their third game at the venue.

  • The Knight Riders (6.73) have the worst powerplay run rate of all teams this season. That low scoring rate isn’t necessarily because their openers have traded explosiveness for stability – the Knight Riders haven’t finished a single powerplay wicketless this season.

  • They are up against a Capitals attack that has consistently taken wickets in the powerplay, picking up 17 at a best-in-the-competition strike rate of 21.18. The early overs of the Knight Riders innings, therefore, could be a key phase in the game.

  • The Knight Riders have been poor in the powerplay with the ball as well. They have the worst economy rate of all teams in this phase (8.260 and have only taken six wickets in 60 overs, at an average of 82.66.

  • Given that they were only defending 84, the Knight Riders’ refusal to bowl Lockie Ferguson in the powerplay against the Royal Challengers was perplexing, but they were probably going by the data, if a little too rigidly. In the IPL, Ferguson has a middle-overs (7-15) economy rate of 5.05 and has taken six wickets in that phase at an average of 14.33. In all other phases, he has an economy rate of 10.57 while taking only three wickets at 74.00.

  • If they play, it will be Yadav’s 100th T20 game and Ajinkya Rahane’s 200th.

  • Harshal Patel is two wickets short of 100 in T20s.

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