After weeks of anticipation, that went down to the wire, we have our two challengers for the Eliminator – Royal Challengers Bangalore vs Kolkata Knight Riders – in an epic showdown. However, this time it isn’t on a batting surface in Sharjah but a surface that has in the past haunted Virat Kohli and co, slow and dry.
For Kolkata, it is a monumental day, for the first time since 2018, the franchise has made it to the playoffs. And in front of them, ironically lies the Sharjah ground, one where they have dominated in the recent past. Unlike other sides, Kolkata have heavily relied on their spin duo, which now has become a trio.
But Bangalore have the tools, Glenn Maxwell has an astonishing strike-rate against spin, Srikar Bharat’s timely match-winner has certainly made RCB a much stronger unit. However, their lies the worry in their star duo taking on spin. In the last year, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers have shown considerable weakness against leg-spin, which is one of KKR’s strongest prospects of dwindling RCB.
Spinners will be put under the litmus
It is no surprise that KKR lead the bowling charts for spin in the tournament, with 30 wickets, level with the Delhi Capitals. What is more intriguing is, since the arrival in the Middle East, only RCB have competed head-to-head with the men in Purple and Gold. The entire setup in Sharjah seems to be a perfect setting for these two sides, who have heavily relied on their slower bowlers.
In the Middle East, both KKR and RCB have picked up 18 wickets apiece but the two-time champions have only conceded 5.6 RPO against RCB’s 7.2 RPO. While KKR were a two-man spin duo, the timely reintroduction of Shakib Al Hasan into the setup now makes them more of a show. More importantly, in Sharjah, RCB spinners have had a wood over others, with six wickets.
But what’s integral to this clash is how the KKR spinners have operated in a pack. In between Narine, Shakib and Varun, they have picked four wickets at this venue, with all of them conceding at 6 RPO or below, showing that they are together a strong unit. For RCB though, the pressure is directly on Chahal and if called upon, Maxwell and Shahbaz Ahmed.
Can the batting pass the slow turner test?
In UAE, RCB’s batting unit have enjoyed the slower bowlers, striking at 125.1, at a run-rate of 7.5, the second best in the tournament while averaging 54 runs/wicket, losing a wicket only every 43.2th delivery against spin.
Maxwell and Bharat have headlined RCB’s efforts against spinners, with the Australian all-rounder only behind Ruturaj Gaikwad, in terms of runs against spin in the Middle East. Maxwell averages 108 against spin, strikes at 161.2, and has only been dismissed once. Bharat, on the other hand, averages 71, strikes at 164.4 and has been dismissed as many times.
KKR aren’t far behind RCB, striking at 131.8 against spin, at a run-rate of 7.9. If anything, they have lost eight wickets against spin, in comparison to RCB in the Middle East. However, what makes it an interesting read is that KKR have three players, who have had a dominating effect against spin, with the bat.
Shubman Gill, Rahul Tripathi and Venkatesh Iyer surely would come as a booster for the Knights, especially against spin. The trio are in the top eight batsmen against spin in the Middle East, with strike-rates which read 121.6, 128 and 131.3. However, would they find their feet against Yuzvendra Chahal, who leads the spin line in the UAE, with 12 wickets?
Concerns with AB de Villiers’ form
14 innings, 302 runs, an average of 33.56 and a strike-rate of 149.5, surely, I must be crazy to even be concerned with AB de Villiers’ form, right? This is the best part about statistics, it always paints the tale that you want to reflect. There is a sea of difference between de Villiers, the batsman in India and in the Middle East. In India, the South African batsman scored 207 runs, at an average of 51.75, striking it at 164.3, forming a destructible partnership with the Australian all-rounder Glenn Maxwell.
However, when you look at his statistics in the Middle East, it paints a tale of a struggling batsman. In UAE, de Villiers has scored just 95 runs, averaged 19 and strikes at 125, a shadow tale isn’t it? Most of it has to surround with his entry points in the country. Barring two innings, the South African batsman has mostly played at No.5, a position that has been sort of unknown to him, at least since he joined the Red and Gold.
At No.5, not only does de Villiers walk out very late in the innings but he comes on with added pressure of scoring quick runs. It takes a toll on his average and strike-rate, which just reads 12.67 and 146.2. Last year, in the same country, de Villiers donned the No.4 role, where he averaged 50 and struck at 155.7, a ploy that RCB could go back to against KKR in Sharjah.
Against KKR in UAE, the 37-year-old has played two innings, a blistering 73 in Sharjah last year and a first-ball duck this year, in Abu Dhabi. While he hasn’t faced Narine in the last two years, his form against Varun Chakravarthy has shown a vindictive pattern of concern for RCB.
Predicted playing XIs
While Kolkata Knight Riders aren’t one side that are going to have any changes to their outfit, there is a possibility that the Royal Challengers Bangalore management could be plotting for a change or two in the setup.
KKR XI: Venkatesh Iyer, Shubman Gill, Rahul Tripathi, Shakib Al Hasan, Eoin Morgan (c), Dinesh Karthik (wk), Sunil Narine, Lockie Ferguson, Varun Chakravarthy, Shivam Mavi
With the conditions in Sharjah supportive to spinners and with George Garton’s form with the ball, where he has only returned with just three wickets, at 35.3 and conceding runs at 8.83 RPO, there is a case for them to swap the left-arm seamer with either of Kyle Jamieson or Wanindu Hasaranga. But it remains to be seen if the franchise decides to make late changes, given how they have played well as a unit in the tournament.
RCB XI: Virat Kohli (c), Devdutt Padikkal, Srikar Bharat (wk), Glenn Maxwell, AB de Villiers, Dan Christian, Shahbaz Ahmed, Harshal Patel, George Garton/Kyle Jamieson, Yuzvendra Chahal, Mohammed Siraj