Knight Riders wary of middle-order rust
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Start time 2000 local (1430 GMT)
A run of four victories have lifted Kolkata Knight Riders to a decent position amid the mad scramble for the final playoff spot and similar success over Chennai Super Kings, who are almost assured of progress, would bolster their case immensely.
Chasing has become Knight Riders' strength since reworking their personnel and batting order. It might well be their preferred route forward in the wake of Super Kings' relentless batting line-up, tying them down at Eden Gardens with their assortment of spinners. There are indications that it might work: Suresh Raina stumbled to a half-century and his team-mates could not decipher a slow turner in Ranchi and lost "10 runs if not more" in the death according to MS Dhoni.
However, the Super Kings captain was unconcerned with the defeat. They have enough bowling resources to exploit spin-friendly pitches, and it was on show as they ran Royal Challengers Bangalore close on Sunday, and batting malfunctions are relatively rare. The openers' failure was a contributing factor and Brendon McCullum, briefly returning home for the birth of his child, will hope to fly out on a winning note.
Knight Riders' middle order fails in inspiring the same confidence as their Sunil Narine-led attack. Yusuf Pathan exploded in celebration after he fulfilled his role as a finisher against Sunrisers Hyderabad, hinting at the pressure he might have been under after another scratchy season. Though their bowlers have limited the oppositions to below 150 in three successive games, Knight Riders have needed their openers to do most of the work. Now is probably the best time for the middle order to shake off the rust that's gathered.
Kolkata Knight Riders: WWWWL (completed games, most recent first)
Chennai Super Kings: LWWLW
Where they stand
Kolkata Knight Riders: Fourth place, with 12 points from 11 games
Chennai Super Kings: Second, with 16 points from 11 games
The two sides squared off on the IPL's return to India and immediately spin took centrestage. Super Kings were in the midst of a 'who's the better opener' competition and McCullum took the honours in Ranchi. His half-century set up a target of 149 in 17 overs after accommodating for rain. However, Knight Riders' chase tanked against the accuracy of Ravindra Jadeja (4-12) and R Ashwin (1-21), who picked up three wickets in five balls inside the Powerplay to usher their side to a comfortable 34-run victory.
Watch out for
With pitches around the country wearing under the summer heat, Samuel Badree might expect to feature in the XI more regularly. He excels at limiting a batsman's scoring areas and exploiting the pressure created to make inroads, but only two wickets in three games indicates he would do well to have Plans B, C and D in place.
Shakib Al Hasan has the ability to clear most grounds and it has led him to attempt too many shots sometimes. A more sedate approach in the middle overs could foster more solidity lower down the order. Should he manage that, his value as an allrounder - his four overs strangle oppositions even in the Powerplay - will rise further.
Stats and trivia
- Knight Riders's longest unbeaten streak is six wins in 2012
- Chennai Super Kings are the only team to have three players - Mohit Sharma, Jadeja and Ashwin - in the top-ten wicket-takers list this season
"It is a great position to bat at since I get a chance to plan my innings and assess the situation better."
Kolkata Knight Riders allrounder Yusuf Pathan enjoyed his promotion to No.4 against Sunrisers
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo