IPL 2021: KKR need to cover all bases to nudge out MI

Ayaz Memon/Mumbai
Filed on October 6, 2021
Andre Russell of the Kolkata Knight Riders during a practice session. —KKR Twitter

The fourth place may well be decided on Net Run Rate

Kolkata Knight Riders’ revival in the second phase has been among the most remarkable stories of IPL 2021. Languishing near the bottom when the tournament resumed, the former champions are now virtually one win away from being in the play-offs. I say virtually because the fourth place may well be decided on Net Run Rate.

Mumbai Indians have come storming back into contention after Tuesday’s resounding win over the Rajasthan Royals, so KKR will be wary. Obviously, they need a win, but also with a big enough margin to stave off MI, who will be playing the last match of the league stage against bottom-placed Sunrisers Hyderabad. This allows MI a clear picture of by what margin they need to win to get through.

Currently, KKR’s NRR is +0.294, far healthier than MI’s -0.048. That’s a long gap for the defending champions to bridge, but KKR are not in an invincible position. MI also gave a demonstration of what they are capable of on Tuesday, restricting RR to 90 and achieving the target in less than 9 overs. A similar performance against SRH could upset KKR’s applecart if they don’t win by a decent margin on Thursday night.

RR have been disappointing. The derring-do of their batsmen has been entertaining to watch, but hasn’t shown any worthwhile gameplan, which is why they’ve lost four of the five matches played in this phase. Such inconsistency works to KKR’s advantage, though it also shows that on their day, RR can be irrepressible. Against CSK, they chased down 189 with astonishing ease.

KKR have to ensure batsmen like Evin Lewis, Sanju Samson, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shivam Dube and Rahul Tewatia aren’t allowed to flourish. MI plucked out openers Lewis and Jaiswal in the powerplay, which made it possible for them to strangulate the middle order. The key was bowling with tight control, forcing the batsmen to take greater risk and induce errors.

The match is being played at Sharjah where the pitch has been sluggish and strokeplay hasn’t been easy, as RR found out to their chagrin against MI. This should work to KKR’s advantage too. Their bowling attack has depth and variety that should worry Samson and his young tyros.

Spinners Sunil Narine and Varun Chakravarthy have been exceptional so far. Shakib Al Hasan made an immediate impact when he was brought into the playing XI. Tim Southee’s experience and skills have been invaluable. Injuries to Andre Russell and Lockie Ferguson had reduced KKR’s options in the previous game. Now the issue is who to drop if either or both are fit!

The biggest worry for KKR is not about the bowling attack, rather the paucity of runs from the middle order. While Shubman Gill, Venkatesh Iyer, Rahul Tripathi and Nitish Rana have more than done their bit in the top order, KKR’s batting starts unravelling once these four are dismissed.

His captaincy has been top class, but Eoin Morgan’s run of scores in the second phase has been horrid, even worse than in the first. Dinesh Karthik has played a couple of good cameos, but the knocks haven’t been substantial enough to make for impregnable totals. Narine has been hit and miss, which is how he’s always batted, leaving the team somewhat vulnerable.

In a crunch game, KKR can’t afford to leave any base uncovered.

Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator

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