Resurgent Kolkata brace for their sternest test

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27 Sep 2021 | 01:27 PM
authorSomesh Agarwal

Resurgent Kolkata brace for their sternest test

Delhi have been flawless so far. Getting past them will test Kolkata's brain and brawn

If Delhi Capitals looked strong during the India leg, they seem unbeatable post resumption. Even the minor voids have fallen into place. Shreyas Iyer has had an immediate impact. His presence has allowed them to play Anrich Nortje who has by far been the most lethal pacer in the past week or so.

In short, Delhi have all bases covered. Their openers are the real deal. Iyer has ensured Prithvi Shaw’s misfiring has not had a definitive impact. Rishabh Pant has moved on from the player he was the same time last year. Shimron Hetmyer has the highest strike rate this season among players with more than a 100 runs. They did not have to break a sweat on Marcus Stoinis’ injury and simply replaced him with an Indian player. For some, it may seem like a flaw in the squad make-up with no like for like replacement, but for Delhi right now, this falls under the swag category.

In addition to chipping in with a boundary or two during the backend of the innings, Axar Patel has taken nine wickets in six games this season. A balls per wicket record of 16, better than any other regular spinner. Ravichandran Ashwin has not been among the wickets but with an economy of 7.3, he has not given anything away.

And should we even talk about their pacers? Their economy in Powerplay this season has been just 6.7. Of course, it is way better than any other side. In fact, Nortje has given runs at an economy of 3.8 in the last two games. That is splendid in even if we go back to the era when limited over’s cricket was not played in coloured clothing. 

The two games they have played so far in UAE have been one-sided affairs. Based on what we have seen so far, Kolkata Knight Riders might offer a sterner test. It not does not need saying that it will be Kolkata's toughest test post resumption as well.

Either Brendon McCullum was not talking much during the India leg or maybe the players had earphones on with the volume up then. Doesn’t matter what has changed since, the messages are getting delivered now. The KKR we have seen in the last three games have a clear stamp of the style of play teams led by McCullum exhibited. Or even how England’s white-ball team plays under Eoin Morgan.

The approach has been positive, even refreshing for a season that seemed quite predictable when the second leg began. Every batsman to follow has shed conservatism and eyed an early finish. But, it all fell in place with the inclusion of Venkatesh Iyer at the top. Their run rate in the Powerplay was 7.4 in India. It has swelled to 9.4 in UAE.

However, for some IPL sides, there is always a twist in the tale lurking somewhere. For KKR, it was the predictable setback of Andre Russell limping out of the ground in their game against Chennai. Even after the meticulous planning around his rehab, Russell's risk-reward ratio has diminished for Kolkata over the years. It resulted in him not bowling the crucial 19th over in a game that they should have won. To make matters worse, he is now uncertain for the rest of the season.  Kolkata have Ben Cutting and Shakib Al Hasan as the all-round options on the bench. But, neither is a match for Russell in either department.

Kolkata’s likely game plan

So coming to the game at hand. How can Kolkata compete against Delhi? Knowing Eoin Morgan’s affinity to match-ups, the approach they take might seem something like this-

Start with spin?

It is becoming clear that Prithvi Shaw likes pace on the ball. It allows him to play authentic strokes while the lack of it tests his patience and thus makes him slog the ball

Hard lengths to Iyer?

With knocks of 43 and 47*, Iyer has been the backbone of the Delhi side in UAE. He is excellent against spin and has scored 33 runs in 13 balls against Chakravarthy in IPL. If something makes him uncomfortable, it is the pacers bowling good hard lengths at him. Something that Lockie Ferguson might be designated to do.

Play Harbhajan?

Delhi have four left-handers in their top seven. If there was a game in which KKR needed Harbhajan, it is this one. This might come at the cost of a pacer, Prasidh Krishna in this case. However, short boundaries in Sharjah might cease this gamble. But if the wicket is anything like the last game played here between Punjab and Hyderabad, Harbhajan’s inclusion might not be a bad option.

To Kolkata players, it has been made clear by the coaching staff that the approach that they have adopted as a side might not result in them being consistent at an individual level. But the players have been given a license to fail which has improved their performance. The biggest positive to come out of this has been their Net Run Rate which is the best among the bottom six sides. To reach the safe haven of 16 points, Kolkata need to win all their remaining four games. However, if a team is to qualify at 14, they have the best chance of the lot.

Probable XIs 

Delhi Capitals: Prithvi Shaw, Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (c & wk), Lalit Yadav, Shimron Hetmyer, Axar Patel, R Ashwin, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Avesh Khan

Kolkata Knight Riders: Shubman Gill, Venkatesh Iyer, Rahul Tripathi, Shakib Al Hasan/Ben Cutting, Nitish Rana, Eoin Morgan (c), Dinesh Karthik (wk), Sunil Narine, Lockie Ferguson, Prasidh Krishna/Harbhajan Singh, Varun Chakravarthy

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Chennai Super Kings vs Kolkata Knight RidersIndian Premier League, 2021Kolkata Knight RidersDelhi CapitalsEoin MorganRishabh PantPrithvi ShawAnrich Nortje

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