Not too long ago Kolkata Knight Riders looked like a side that could do no wrong, but things have started to get tricky. It is not panic stations time yet, but KKR have now lost two of their last three games. They are still very much in contention for top four, and have an edge over the other sides due to their superior Net Run Rate, but the two losses mean that they can ill-afford to slip-up henceforth.
Eoin Morgan’s men fought tooth and nail against Chennai Super Kings but head coach Brendon McCullum would be bitterly disappointed by his side’s showing against fellow top-four contenders Punjab Kings on Friday. Punjab entered the contest with little to no confidence under their belt, yet they comprehensively outperformed the Knight Riders in all facets, looking the hungrier of two sides. Injuries did hamper Morgan & Co, but their sloppy showing in Dubai was a far cry from how they’d started the second leg, bludgeoning teams left, right and center.
On Sunday KKR will come up against a side that has nothing to be hungry about, but they will also be aware that SRH have nothing to lose. Wooden spoon is all but guaranteed for the Sunrisers, but they will still be keen to salvage pride and spoil KKR’s party. Kane Williamson’s side has already hurt the top-four prospects of Rajasthan Royals, so come Sunday, they will be aiming to do the same to the Knight Riders.
Will KKR seamers’ struggles in the powerplay continue?
The Knight Riders have done a lot of things right since restart, but one area where they’ve continued to struggle is taking wickets up-front with the new ball. And at fault for the same have been their seamers.
Since the start of the second leg in UAE, the KKR seamers have taken just three wickets across five matches. In the last four games they’ve taken just one wicket, and the seamers’ inability to strike up-front hurt them against both Punjab and Chennai.
It is a problem that has, really, plagued them since last season. In the last two IPL seasons, the KKR pacers have taken just 18 wickets in the first six overs, the fewest among all sides. This season, the figure stands at six, with SRH being the only other side that has fared equally worse in the pace department in the powerplay.
The absence of Lockie Ferguson hurt them against Punjab, but something that would have disappointed McCullum is how poorly Tim Southee has fared. Renowned to be a lethal force up-front, the veteran is yet to take a wicket in the powerplay so far, and in the last game conceded 19 off the 2 overs he bowled in the first six, bowling a plethora of ‘hit me’ deliveries.
What’s not helping KKR is also the inconsistency of the young Indian seamers. They started off with Prasidh, turned to Sandeep Warrier and re-introduced Shivam Mavi in the last game. Yet neither bowler has been able to make a telling mark.
There is already enough on the plate of Narine and Chakravarthy, thus the KKR seamers will have to shoulder more responsibility, particularly up-front, if the side is to progress. With Jason Roy now in the SRH set-up, the game could quickly slip out of KKR’s hands should the seamers not fire with the new ball.
Focus on the form of the two skippers
For entirely different reasons, come Sunday, the focus will be on the batting form of the two skippers. Williamson and Morgan have both had a tumultuous time with the bat since the resumption of the season in the UAE and with just three games left in the group stages, time is running out for both the skippers to turn the tide.
In the case of Williamson, runs from his willow is the need of the hour for SRH owing to the side desperately short in experience. So far in the UAE leg, Williamson has struck just 81 runs in 4 matches at an average of 27 and a SR of 96.4, and lack of runs from his bat has hurt the side immeasurably.
None of Roy, Saha, Priyam Garg, Abhishek Sharma and Abdul Samad are reliable run-accumulators, and with David Warner completely alienated, the Sunrisers are pretty much in a situation where they will ‘need’ their skipper to score big to be competitive.
In Morgan’s case, meanwhile, it is about him justifying his selection in the XI. Thus far in the UAE leg, Morgan is yet to reach double-digits, posting scores of 7, 8, 0 and 2. His average of 10.90 this season is the second-worst for any specialist batsman in the history of IPL in a single season, and he has pretty much been a passenger.
Luckily for KKR the other batters have stepped up, but at some point the question will arise: how long can Morgan stay in the side without contributing? Can someone hog a place in the XI, that too an overseas spot, merely on the pretext of being captain? And it is fair to expect the other batters to carry their skipper game-in and game-out?
Head coach McCullum has constantly restated that he is confident of Morgan turning his fortunes around, but another failure come Sunday might force the Kiwi to start pondering about taking a tough decision.
Jason Roy, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Kane Williamson (c), Priyam Garg, Abhishek Sharma, Abdul Samad, Jason Holder, Rashid Khan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Siddarth Kaul, Sandeep Sharma
Shubman Gill, Venkatesh Iyer, Rahul Tripathi, Eoin Morgan (c), Nitish Rana, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Tim Seifert / Ben Cutting / Shakib Al Hasan, Sunil Narine, Shivam Mavi, Tim Southee, Varun Chakaravarthy