The Indian Premier League 2021 started just over 10 days ago but Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders already seem to be heading in contrasting directions. MS Dhoni and Co. have played some smart brand of cricket this season and are coming into this encounter having won their last two games against Punjab Kings and Rajasthan Royals with utmost ease. Meanwhile, Kolkata have lost their last two games, of which they could have easily won one (v Mumbai Indians). Their skipper Eoin Morgan and other superstars have failed to deliver so far and would be eager to turn things around when they play Chennai on Wednesday (April 21).
KKR'S BIG GUNS CONTINUE TO DISAPPOINT
The young Indian trio of Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana and Rahul Tripathi haven't yet stamped their authority in IPL 2021 but have performed way better than the likes of Morgan, Dinesh Karthik, Andre Russell and Shakib Al Hasan. Kolkata have the second-best scoring rate in the powerplay this season, courtesy of the former three, but haven't been able to boss around in the remaining two phases of the innings. The latter four, who are superstars in the shortest format of the game, have hardly done anything fruitful and it's because of them Kolkata have the worst scoring rate and balls-per-boundary ratio in the last five overs.
Karthik smashed a fiery cameo against Sunrisers Hyderabad but looked way out of touch against Mumbai and Bangalore. Meanwhile, Shakib (97.43), Morgan (115.15) and Russell (112.5) have strike rate of less than 120 in this edition and have failed to provide Kolkata that much-needed momentum in the second half of the innings. The four international stars have struggled to get going on a tricky Chepauk surface and would be delighted with the fact that Kolkata will play their next two games at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai.
The two-time champions are probably going to drop Shakib and bring in Ben Cutting to add batting firepower. Spinners have hardly done anything at the Wankhede this season, and someone like Cutting could prove to be handy on this surface. His inclusion could also help Kolkata solve their death overs' woes. Meanwhile, Russell managed to smack a couple of sixes against Bangalore and would now look to make a bigger impact on a pitch that will suit his ferocious batting style. However, they will be wary of Moeen Ali and Ravindra Jadeja who were superb against Rajasthan on Monday.
Kolkata will also have to use Karthik properly. The wicketkeeper-batsman's game against spin has been on a decline for a while now as he averages just 5.6 against them in IPL since 2020. Despite his weakness against the spinners, KKR have been sending him to bat early on in the innings. It would be ideal to send him as late as possible, preferably at number 6 or towards the death overs. In IPL since 2020, he has a strike rate of 181 in the last five overs and is better at finishing games than setting up.
It's not just with the bat in hand, Morgan also made a couple of tactical blunders against Bangalore. After Varun Chakravarthy dismissed Virat Kohli and Rajat Patidar in his first over, Morgan took the mystery spinner out of the attack and allowed Maxwell to settle in. The dynamic Australian batsman was on 30 off 19 balls when Chakravarthy was brought back into the attack but Maxwell then simply knocked him out of the park. Then he used Russell against AB de Villiers who has a strike rate of almost 250 against the all-rounder from West Indies.
"That has to be the weirdest kind of captaincy I have ever seen in my life. Someone taking two wickets in the first over, and then does not get to bowl the next one. That was probably the most ridiculous captaincy I have ever seen," said Gautam Gambhir, who led KKR to two titles during his cricketing days, on Star Sports. Morgan will have to be at his best against MS Dhoni who knows how to make the most of the limited resources Chennai have in their arsenal.
CSK MAKING ALL THE RIGHT MOVES
"The first six balls I played could cost us in some other game, so I have to be mindful of that." Dhoni didn't shy away from accepting the fact that he wasn't at his best against Rajasthan. The wicketkeeper-batsman scored only one off his first six deliveries before eventually getting dismissed for 18 off 17. It would be easy to criticise Dhoni's batting, but not to forget, the 39-year-old is way past his prime. However, the same can't be said about his captaincy and wicketkeeping. What he brings to the table is much more than those 18 runs.
The three-time champions were rightly lambasted for playing old-school cricket in the last edition of IPL but have played with a lot more intent this season. Moeen, Jadeja and Sam Curran have emerged as true match-winners, while Faf du Plessis, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu and Dwayne Bravo too have made vital contributions. The CSK team management have used Moeen perfectly, making him bat at No. 3. He is one of the biggest reasons why Chennai have the best scoring rate in the middle-overs. With Dhoni struggling, it won't be a bad idea to constantly bat Curran and Jadeja above him. They have Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar batting at No. 10 and 11 respectively and that tells you about their batting depth.
We all know Dhoni doesn't like to make changes but the time seems to be running out for Ruturaj Gaikwad. The right-hander from Maharashtra, who scored three consecutive fifties last season, has looked way out of touch this year and Chennai have the option of bringing in one of N Jagadeesan or Robin Uthappa, each of whom had a fantastic Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy 2020-21. Chennai head coach, Stephen Fleming, however, confirmed that the franchise will continue to back Gaikwad who has only scored 20 runs in three games, that too at a strike rate of 54.05. Chennai have also got Lungi Ngidi waiting in the wings but the South African pacer might have to wait a bit more to get his opportunity. But, if needed, CSK will have to drop one of du Plessis or Bravo to fit Ngidi in the XI.
Kolkata - Nitish Rana, Shubman Gill, Rahul Tripathi, Eoin Morgan (c), Dinesh Karthik (wk), Andre Russell, Ben Cutting, Pat Cummins, Harbhajan Singh, Prasidh Krishna, Varun Chakravarthy.
Chennai - Ruturaj Gaikwad, Faf du Plessis, Moeen Ali, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja, MS Dhoni (c & wk), Sam Curran, Dwayne Bravo, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar.