Permutations and combinations have allowed both Kolkata Knight Riders and Rajasthan Royals to stay alive in the tournament. Both teams have gone through ups and downs. Now up against each other in Match 54, they have no option but to win. The losing party will have to pack their bags. There is no guarantee that the winning side will qualify for the Playoffs either but will have an outside chance to get through based on results in other games.
Similarities and dissimilarities
The way both the sides were framed after the fresh auction in 2018, they were both heavily reliant on their overseas players. The other half of the side has been dotted largely with players who have not established themselves in international cricket.
One of the biggest reasons behind KKR’s miseries this season has been the underpar performance of their overseas pros. Eoin Morgan has scored over 300 runs at a strike-rate of 131 but from a player of his quality, you expect more impactful knocks. A highest score of 44 in the season tells the tale of a mediocre year. Sunil Narine has bowled economically but has not picked wickets. Andre Russell is out injured after a string of poor outings. Pat Cummins has picked only eight wickets in 13 games.
RR, on the other hand, have risen with Ben Stokes finding his mojo. The England allrounder has smashed 157 runs in the last two matches alongside providing rapid starts as an opener. Jos Buttler has been amongst the runs. Jofra Archer is currently leading the Most Valuable Player of the tournament charts.
Muddled batting order
A number of unnecessary changes in the batting order has led to dismal returns from KKR’s batting line-up. A major such change was Dinesh Karthik and Eoin Morgan swapping their batting positions.
Karthik was promoted to four while Morgan, having made a name for himself as one of the best white-ball batsmen in world cricket batting at four was demoted to six. In the previous two seasons, Karthik batted at an average of 41 while striking the ball at 139 at five. This season, in four innings at number four, he has only managed 7 runs. Morgan’s numbers look good at five and six but as mentioned above, coming late in the innings has prevented him from making an impact for KKR.
In another similarity between the two sides, RR faced similar issues in the first half of the league stage. However, they have found a settled combination for themselves now.
RR’s batting powerhouse
When Buttler was pushed down the batting-order, the question was if RR are missing out on his firepower at the top. Stokes has ensured that isn’t the case as he has the second highest batting strike-rate in the Powerplay this season.
In the last two games, it has rocketed to 195.2. In a similar vein, Sanju Samson has also been exceptional in the last couple of games. He has an average of 102 at a strike-rate of 182. Against an underperforming KKR bowling unit (second-worst bowling average overall in the tournament and the worst in the Powerplay), they can make merry again.
All hopes on Narine?
Although he has not taken many wickets, the onus will be on Narine to counter RR’s batsmen. He has a great record against some of their prime batsmen who have not been able to get the measure of the mystery spinner. Needless to say, it will be crucial how KKR use Narine’s four overs.
Also, batting in the middle-order now, Narine will be key to break the shackles against RR's wrist-spinners - Shreyas Gopal and Rahul Tewatia - during the middle-overs.
Kolkata Knight Riders:
KKR’s biggest problem has been with their third pacer. While Kamlesh Nagarkoti has been decent, he has been expensive at the death. His economy during the death overs this season is 17.3. In comparison, they can think about bringing Prasidh Krishna back - 9.3 runs per over during the death. Meanwhile, there is still no news on Russell’s fitness.
Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana, Rahul Tripathi, Sunil Narine, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Eoin Morgan ( c ), Rinku Singh, Pat Cummins, Lockie Ferguson, Kamlesh Nagarkoti/Prasidh Krishna, Varun Chakravarthy
Having won two matches in a row, RR are expected to field the same XI.
Robin Uthappa, Ben Stokes, Sanju Samson (wk), Steve Smith ( c ), Jos Buttler, Riyan Parag, Rahul Tewatia, Jofra Archer, Shreyas Gopal, Kartik Tyagi, Varun Aaron