KKR's bang-it-in plan goes awry
The short nature of Twenty20 makes it an extremely tactical game, especially in a match reduced to 17 overs. More rides on every captaincy move, every input from every laptop, and every bit of coaching, than it does in longer formats. Kolkata Knight Riders got one wrong today when they decided to bowl short to Brendon McCullum. It is hard to tell if it was an instinctive call from the bowler and the captain, or if indeed they had some numbers to suggest this could be a plan - although it is hard to imagine McCullum struggling against bouncers - but the end result provided a fillip to what had been an okay start from the batsman.
Also, had it been a larger plan, you would have imagined Knight Riders would get Morne Morkel to execute it and not pick Andre Russell in the XI and get R Vinay Kumar to get it into McCullum's chin. As it happened, an umpiring oversight might just have ruled out any chances of Knight Riders not going through with it.
Knight Riders had opened with two spinners, presumably to get some of their overs in before the towels came out. The outfield had taken some rain, and there had been some dew around even before it rained. Shakib Al Hasan and Sunil Narine had been tight against the adventurous and successful Chennai Super Kings openers, and Dwayne Smith had been taken out. The ball was turning, and we were entering a crucial phase before Narine would come back to finish off. A few tight overs here, and Narine would have the upper hand, but Narine would be chasing the game if Super Kings kicked away now.
At 43 for 1 after 6 overs, on came Vinay. When he first bounced McCullum, he beat the batsman. Replays, though, showed the ball had gone over head-height. A stricter umpire might have called it a wide. Under those circumstances, you might have possibly questioned the bounce in the pitch, and asked yourself if you really want to go ahead with the bouncers. Instead you see one fly, beat the top edge, all doubts disappear, and you put one extra man back on the hook.
McCullum, though, didn't hold back on the pull, and the movement of mid-off into the circle basically told him he could sit back and wait for the short ball. McCullum said as much. He found hitting down the ground difficult so he was anyway deep in the crease to shorten the length and go horizontal. Knight Riders' plan only helped him.
McCullum got one chest-high, and those quick hands and feet helped him put it over square leg. It didn't stop Vinay from trying the short-pitched bowling in his next over. This is where McCullum's footwork proceeded to create his own length. The first two balls Vinay didn't quite bowl in his own half, but McCullum managed to pull them from the depth of the crease. Both went into the gap between the two men back, which meant McCullum kept strike.
Vinay got higher now, and McCullum didn't bother keeping the pull down. Into the gap again. The plan was hurting Knight Riders bad, but it wasn't changing. It was a little surprising that Knight Riders stuck with it for as long as they did. In all, Vinay bowled eight short or shortish balls to McCullum, who took 19 runs off them with his pull.
That over from Vinay ended with a moral victory for Knight Riders, when McCullum gloved the last ball - another short one - for four to fine leg, but by then Super Kings had already broken away. At any rate, at Vinay's pace, on an easy-paced pitch, it would really have been against the run of play had Knight Riders got the better of McCullum with short-pitched bowling.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo