The Kolkata Knight Riders have been the most curious case of IPL 2020. Half of their wins have been because of the opposition choking while all their losses have been one-sided affairs.
Their biggest match-winner in the last few seasons – Andre Russell - has let them down with form and fitness. Other big guns in Eoin Morgan, Sunil Narine, Pat Cummins and Shubman Gill have not set the tournament on fire. They are the only team this year that has changed their captain mid-season.
Yet, alternating between wins and losses, they have gathered 12 points in as many games. While their fortunes of making it to the playoffs rest in their own hands for now, they can be the first team ever to not make it to the playoffs with 16 points owing to a low net run-rate.
Their opponents in Match 49 are Chennai Super Kings, who are the only side to be out of contention as of now. Relieved of any expectations, CSK can only act as a party-spoiler for KKR now and KXIP in their last games of the season.
A contrast with the bat
Ahead of the 2020 season, KKR were the most aggressive batting unit. Since 2018, no other team had a better collective run-rate than their 8.99. However, their exploits with the bat have taken a 180-degree flip in this season.
In IPL 2020, they have the lowest run-rate among all teams.
There has been no silver lining for them with the bat this season. Most of their batsmen, barring Russell, have played one or two decent innings, but there has been no sign of consistency from any of them.
The game of revolving chairs with their batting order has not helped their cause either. So far they have tried five different batsmen for the opening slot, three batsmen at number three and six batsmen at number four. This is akin to the other teams in the bottom half. It is understandable for teams like SRH and RR who are sifting through young Indian players to discover prospects. And for CSK as their old guard let them down this season. KKR had a settled line-up from the outset, hence it is a surprise that they are have failed to successfully assign roles for their main batsmen.
The more successful teams have done minimal changes. Barring injuries, Mumbai Indians would not have changed their top-4 at all. Even, RCB have had a consistent top-4 and have struggled whenever AB de Villiers did not bat at four. There has been a dip in the performance of Delhi Capitals since they have moved away from the top-order they started with. On the other hand, KXIP have stormed back into the tournament with a settled top-4 and Chris Gayle at three.
Batting position jumble for KKR
For KKR, the juggle started with the need to establish Narine at the top of the order and forcing Russell to bat out of position at number four. The move to not bat Russell at the position he has been most impactful in resulted in Morgan batting lower down the order. This ensured the Englishman not batting at number four, a position he has had the most success in international circuit in recent years.
The player who has suffered the most in this conundrum is Dinesh Karthik. Having batted at every position from three to seven this year, he has scored 148 runs at an average of mere 13.45 and a strike-rate of 120.3. In the last two seasons, he was most successful while batting at the death. In this season, he has struggled to find a rhythm while adapting himself to bat higher up the order. Whenever he has survived till the last five overs, he has been at his usual best.
Hence, with the absence of Russell and time running out, KKR must free Karthik from his misery and bat him as a finisher. Being a more seasoned batsman, Morgan should be able to play the anchor’s role.
Also, with Narine as the only allrounder option, KKR are a batsman short. Either of Cummins or Kamlesh Nagarkoti have batted at seven in the last few games, one position higher than ideal. Moreover, Nagarkoti has bowled just two overs in the last two games. KKR will be better off replacing him with a batsman in Siddhesh Lad or Rinku Singh.
Even if KKR want to play the extra bowler, Kuldeep Yadav can be a better option. While he has struggled to take wickets of late but has been more economical than KKR’s rookie pacers. Also, key CSK batsmen in Faf du Plessis and Ambati Rayudu have a strike-rate of under a 100 against Kuldeep.
For CSK, MS Dhoni found more control with their overseas spinner back in the XI. In hindsight, this was the move they could have gone with earlier. Young Ruturaj Gaikwad batted with 'spark' as well. It is unlikely that a hungry CSK will be a pushover in the last two games. Especially when it is a do or die match for their opponents.
CSK: Ruturaj Gaikwad, Faf du Plessis, Ambati Rayudu, N Jagadeesan, MS Dhoni (c & wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Sam Curran, Deepak Chahar, Monu Kumar, Mitchell Santner, Imran Tahir.
KKR: Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana, Rahul Tripathi, Siddhesh Lad, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Sunil Narine, Eoin Morgan©, Pat Cummins, Varun Chakravarthy, Prasidh Krishna, Lockie Ferguson