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IPL 2021: Can Punjab Kings halt Kolkata Knight Riders?

Kolkata Knight Riders captain Eoin Morgan has been patchy with the bat. — BCCI
Kolkata Knight Riders captain Eoin Morgan has been patchy with the bat. — BCCI

Mumbai - KL Rahul's side have squandered winning opportunities twice in four matches

By Ayaz Memon

Published: Thu 30 Sep 2021, 8:09 PM

With three wins in four matches, Kolkata Knight Riders have been on a surge in this phase, which an up-and-down Punjab Kings, having lost three matches in four, might find difficult to stop: Unless their struggling top order hits top form, and more importantly the players don’t lose nerve under pressure.

The second aspect is most worrying for PBKS. Twice in four matches, they’ve squandered winning opportunities, most noticeably against Rajasthan Royals when they failed to score 10 runs off 15 deliveries with eight wickets in hand. Against Mumbai Indians too, Punjab had a good chance to upset the defending champions but made mistakes in the field at crucial junctures.

Last season too, Punjab snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in a few matches, which hurt them badly, but sadly, no progress seems to have been made in this respect. In crunch situations, instead of showing steel, Punjab’s players seem to turn into jelly.

Where batting is concerned, like last season, PBKS have depended heavily on skipper K L Rahul and Mayank Agarwal for the bulk of the runs. Chris Gayle has chipped in every now and then, and new recruit Aiden Markram has provided modest support in the last couple of games.

However, free-stroking Nicholas Pooran, Deepak Hooda and Mandeep Singh haven’t been able to live up to reputation. This has undermined the splendid effort of the bowlers, especially Mohammed Shami, Arshdeep Singh and leg spinner Ravi Bishnoi whose belated entry into the playing XI raised eyebrows.

KKR’s form in the second phase has been splendid. Runs have flowed from the bats of Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana, Rahul Tripathi and particularly new opener Venkatesh Iyer. These four have shown confidence and aggression to an extent that other batsmen haven’t had much to do. When the occasion demanded, Dinesh Karthik and Sunil Narine have come up with exhilarating cameos to shore up the innings.

KKR’s bowlers have excelled too. The slow and low pitches have worked in favour of mystery bowlers Varun Chakravarthy and Sunil Narine, who have baffled batsmen with either spin or from a difficult to decipher action. Eoin Morgan has deployed them profitably in powerplays too, putting opposition openers under immediate pressure.

The attack is not totally dependent on spin though. Lockie Ferguson, with wonderful variations in pace and length, has shown why he is so highly rated in white-ball cricket, when bowling in the middle overs and at the death. Iyer has emerged as a decent back up seamer, with good control and strong nerves, if the regulars have an off day.

While all this makes KKR the favoured team, Morgan will know that there are still some vulnerabilities to cover. While his captaincy has been superb, his own form with the bat has been abysmal. He needs a couple of big scores under his belt, preferably from this match. Also, a question mark lingers on Andre Russell’s fitness. If he doesn’t play, it’s a big blow to KKR.

Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator

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