Heading into the second phase of IPL 2021, Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) were two teams who needed to prove a point.
CSK, after a rollicking start to the first leg in India, had to show the world that they had it in them to perform with the same authority in a country where they were battered last season, while KKR needed to demonstrate that they were a far better team than what the points table suggested. There was pride at stake for both franchises, who had demons of their own to deal with.
Two matches each later, it’s fair to say, then, that both the sides have made their points, and that too in some fashion. And fascinatingly enough, they’ve happened to make their statements against the same set of opponents.
And so that brings us to the clash on Sunday, where there will be bragging rights up for grabs. On current form at least, you could say that Abu Dhabi will be overseeing the clash between the unstoppable force that is Brendon McCullum’s KKR and the immovable object that is Stephen Fleming’s CSK.
Can CSK exploit the vulnerable KKR middle-order?
Since the restart, KKR have looked like a true champion side. They’ve not simply beaten their opponents, but obliterated them. Both their matches in the second-leg have been one-sided affairs.
And this utter dominance, which at times has been scary, has been directly driven by the top-order. The introduction of Venkatesh Iyer, who across two games has struck at a SR of 164.91, has transformed KKR’s batting to the extent that they’ve become unrecognizable. Iyer has also injected confidence into Gill and Tripathi, and such is the fearlessness with which the KKR top-order has batted that they’ve scored 253 runs in 25.1 overs so far in this UAE leg of IPL 2021.
But CSK will know that lying beneath is a middle-order which is not just unstable, but vulnerable too.
In the first phase of IPL 2021, KKR’s middle-order (No.4 to No.7) averaged a paltry 18.5 and lost a wicket every 14.3 balls - only SRH and PBKS’ middle-order batters fared worse. The management played musical chairs with the positions of Morgan, Dinesh Karthik, Narine, Russell and Shakib and nothing, really, seemed to work. There was no role clarity and the Knight Riders’ middle-order simply reeked of instability, with too many cooks being present.
Both RCB and MI failed to ask questions of KKR’s middle-order but CSK would be hoping to tap right into this vulnerability. And for that, they would need their seamers to fire in the powerplay. Indeed, CSK took 5 wickets inside the first six overs in their last H2H match against KKR but, overall, Dhoni’s men have blown hot and cold in the first phase with the ball in IPL 2021.
They could ill-afford to start slow come Sunday, given the outrageous form that the KKR top three find themselves in.
All eyes on Varun Chakravarthy and Sunil Narine
KKR’s mystery spinners Varun Chakravarthy and Sunil Narine enter Sunday’s clash in red-hot form, with both bowling as well as they have together. So far in 16 overs in the second leg, Chakrvarthy and Narine have registered astonishing combined figures of 4/75 off 16 overs, maintaining an ER of 4.68. Incidentally, it is the two of them who have walked away with the Man of the Match award in the first two matches of the UAE leg, despite the batters being mighty impressive.
How CSK negate the threat of these two wizards could very well end up deciding the fate of the contest. The Super Kings will be aware of this too, for it was their horror show against these two spinners that cost them the game in the two sides’ H2H clash in Abu Dhabi last year.
There, KKR’s then-skipper DK trusted Chakravarthy and Narine to deliver at the death, and the duo repaid the faith by choking the CSK batters. Together they returned figures of 8-0-59-2, and their parsimonious showing saw CSK fail to chase down 168 despite having been 99/1 in 12 overs at one stage.
The encouraging fact for CSK is that, this season, they’ve been head and shoulders above every side when it comes to attacking spin. The Super Kings’ SR of 150.3 against spinners in IPL 2021 is the best for all sides, and they have also struck a boundary against the slower bowlers once every 5.2 balls, more frequently than any other side.
Instrumental to this have been Ruturaj Gaikwad, Moeen Ali, Suresh Raina and Ambati Rayudu, who’ve all boasted a SR over 150 against the spinners, and CSK would be hoping for the quartet to continue the good work.
It will be a challenge like no other, though.
With both CSK and KKR having won each of their two matches in the second leg, expect the two teams to go into Sunday’s clash unchanged, not disrupting a winning combination.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Shubman Gill, Venkatesh Iyer, Rahul Tripathi, Nitish Rana, Eoin Morgan (c), Dinesh Karthik (wk), Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, Lockie Ferguson, Varun Chakravarthy, Prasidh Krishna
Chennai Super Kings: Ruturaj Gaikwad, Faf du Plessis, Moeen Ali, Ambati Rayudu, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni (c & wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar, Josh Hazlewood