On surfaces that turned square, Kolkata Knight Riders struggled, with just one win out of three in the competition. They had featured the trio of Sunil Narine, Shakib Al Hasan and Varun Chakravarthy, yet the result wasn’t quite working. Even when they moved the caravan to Ahmedabad, the struggle was real; the batters were not at their best, the bowlers weren’t delivering as they promised in the Middle East.
Languishing at seventh place, Kolkata were truly in a state of mess, one that no one had predicted. One that no one could predict and one that certainly shocked them all. But the move to Middle East couldn’t have come at a better time for the Knights, who made their dreams come true, one game at a time. And when they had arrived in Sharjah, they showed how to play cricket, literally and figuratively at the venue.
Before you talk about how Sharjah has been one of KKR’s favourite venues, let me get it cleared out. Last year, same venue, KKR ended with a record of three losses in three games. That’s not a record any side would be proud of and definitely not a side, who needed to win all their games for qualification. Kolkata didn’t just win it, they dominated and perhaps, aced the conditions to perfection, seemingly making Sharjah look like the Eden Gardens from their epic fortress like run in the IPL.
So how did they do it? Let’s dissect it one segment at a time. If you can’t change the man, change the man is a popular saying and KKR stuck by it, they changed the opening pair, included a fiery Venkatesh Iyer to the mix and the rest is history. Barring KKR, Chennai were the only other side to have dominated in Sharjah but KKR did the unbelievable.
KKR’s approach with the bat in the powerplay
Barring the one game, Kolkata Knight Riders were always chasing a target in the four games that they played in Sharjah. The approach across the board was quite simple – get across the powerplay stage without losing too many wickets. At the venue across four games, the Knights had lost just three wickets in the powerplay stage but struck at a strike-rate of 122.9, not too concerned with the quick runs, unlike the other sides.
While at any other venue, it would have been a sham, in Sharjah, KKR identified the threat of the new batsman facing deliveries. There was never a surface on offer across all the four games, where a batter could come out and start slogging. So, the approach in the powerplay was to have a stable base, averaging 59 runs in the first six overs for every wicket they lost.
44/2, 34/0, 48/1 and 51/1, the approach was quite visible. They weren’t quite explosive but they weren’t losing any wickets, which ensured that the middle-order could take their time or come out slogging without too many repercussions as they struck a boundary every 7.2 deliveries.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of how they read the game could be their clash against Rajasthan Royals. In the powerplay phase that night, the Knights only scored 34 runs, at a run-rate of 5.7. But they accelerated in the middle-overs at 10.3 RPO, which eliminated Rajasthan completely from the game.
Who to target?
Across the four games, there has been a clear pattern of play from KKR’s batters – target the fifth bowler or the weakest link in the bowling unit in Sharjah. In their first clash against Delhi at the venue, KKR batters targeted Lalit Yadav, who conceded 35 runs on that night, the most by any bowler in the Delhi outfit, at 11.7 RPO.
Against Rajasthan Royals, the pattern was there, four overs in between Shivam Dube, Glenn Phillips and Rahul Tewatia cost them 46 runs, at 11.5 RPO. In the Eliminator clash against Bangalore, they targeted the Australian all-rounder Daniel Christian, who conceded 29 runs in just 1.4 overs, at 17.4 RPO. While they didn’t quite have the same plan against Delhi, they came out swatting the ball in the powerplay, ensuring there wasn’t much hiccup to up the ante in the middle-overs.
How do KKR plan with the ball?
With the ball, Kolkata have indeed outbowled many a top batting sides in the competition. Notably, the other finalists – Chennai Super Kings – truly aced their run-chase against Kolkata. Barring that, Kolkata have only lost to Punjab Kings, another side, which timed their chase to perfection. Despite the two hiccups, KKR have by and far have been one of the best bowling sides in the second leg of the competition.
Integral to their bowling has been the powerplay efforts from the pace-spin combination. In between pacers and spinners, KKR have bowled 24 overs in the powerplay in Sharjah, at an economy rate of 6.1, 6.3 for the pacers and 5.9 with the spinners. Who better than Lockie Ferguson in the powerplay stage, with the Kiwi pacer having picked up four of the seven wickets in the first six overs stage in Sharjah.
Ferguson’s pace partnership with Shivam Mavi has by and far been so effective, with the spinners from the other end. Ironically, the Kiwi pacer leads the bowling chart for pacers at the venue, with eight wickets, averaging just 10.5, conceding at 6 RPO, one of the real reasons behind KKR’s success in Sharjah.
KKR’s spinners and Sharjah – love at first sight
In between Varun Chakravarthy and Shakib, KKR have picked up two wickets in the powerplay stage, which has indeed put a bolt to the opposition’s batting heart. At the venue, in the middle-overs (7-15), KKR have conceded runs at 6.2 RPO, which is joint second-best, only behind Mumbai Indians.
But more importantly, they have struck 13 times, which has sucked the life out of the opposition, picking a wicket every 17.1 runs conceded or a wicket every 16.6 deliveries. Either way, the figures are the best at the venue, where bowlers have struggled. One of the vital reasons is the hard length that the KKR spinners have bowled, Narine in specific.
Against RCB, we had also illustrated how the West Indian was immaculate with his plans, of deceiving the batsmen with pace and line. Across the Sharjah leg, only Yuzvendra Chahal had picked up as many wickets as Narine. The Windies all-rounder conceded 6 RPO but in tandem with Varun, ensured the run flow never existed for the opposition.
Amongst spin attacks at the venue, KKR are the best, with ten wickets, at an economy rate of 5.7, with only Sunrisers’ spinners coming better at 5.6. While in most of the innings, the game is all but done even before the end of the death overs.
KKR have not only turned around their fortune in Sharjah, from three losses to four wins but they have also lost just two games in the Middle East this year, which has now propelled them into the final, against CSK. A fitting finale for two contenders who have aced the venue in Sharjah. While it is only ironical that Sharjah won’t be the venue for the final, the two sides would surely want to take their spirits from the venue to Dubai.