The best bowling v the best batting
Sunday, June 1, 2014
Start time 2000 local (1430 GMT)
They have already met three times this season, but there remains a sense that Kings XI Punjab versus Kolkata Knight Riders hasn't really happened yet. The tournament hasn't yet witnessed a genuinely explosive meeting between its two best sides. Sunday's final might just prove to be that match.
None of the three previous meetings had a comparable context. Seven seasons into the IPL, Kings XI Punjab have finally put together a truly formidable side and have reached their first final. Kolkata Knight Riders, after a lukewarm start, have pulled off eight successive wins to reach their second final. It's a massive day for both sides. There's no way, you'd think, that this match will have the low-key feel of their previous meetings.
Knight Riders hadn't really kicked into gear or even figured out their best combination when they lost a low-scoring game in Abu Dhabi. Kings XI weren't really themselves either in Cuttack or even during the first Qualifier in Kolkata, particularly when they were chasing with one eye on the Duckworth-Lewis equation.
Those three meetings, however, established one thing: Knight Riders were consistently keeping Kings XI's batsmen in check. Knight Riders didn't let Kings XI score 150 even once, and were the only side to successfully defend a total against them.
How long can that continue, though? After his 122 in Friday's Qualifier against Chennai Super Kings, Virender Sehwag joined Glenn Maxwell and David Miller on the list of Kings XI batsmen with more than 400 runs for the season. Between them, these three have only scored one half-century in three games against Knight Riders; in their last meeting on Wednesday, none of them got into double figures. Something, surely, has to give.
Something, you feel, must give, considering the venue for the final. Batsmen love the true bounce and the tiny boundaries at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, and Kings XI, despite not being at their very best, made 198 the last time they batted here. That 198 was one of seven 190-plus totals, including four in excess of 200, for Kings XI this season.
Knight Riders, on the other hand, have only one 170-plus total this season. It is a stat that would normally show a batting side in poor light, but in this case it's a reflection of how good their bowling has been, since Knight Riders have chased 10 times in 15 matches and they haven't had to chase too many massive targets.
Given their opposition, however, there is always a chance they will be called upon to do so, or called upon to post a mammoth first-innings total on a flat pitch. How will they respond to such a call? How will the rest of their batting cope if Robin Uthappa - who has made ten successive 40-plus scores at the top of the order - doesn't give them the start he usually provides?
Kings XI Punjab: WLWWL (completed games, most recent first)
Kolkata Knight Riders: WWWWW
Watch out for...
Akshar Patel had a fantastic Ranji Trophy season for Gujarat, with bat and ball, but no one expected he would play anything more than a bit-part role for Kings XI Punjab. As it has turned out, Akshar has been one of only four players who have featured in every single match for them, and has performed so well he is now in India's ODI squad. Akshar has easily been Kings XI's best bowler - with 17 wickets and an economy rate of 6.19 - and, when called upon, a composed presence in the lower middle order. He bowled brilliantly in the first Qualifier against Knight Riders - taking two wickets and giving away just 11 runs in his four overs - and a strong finish to the season could put him among the frontrunners for the Emerging Player award.
Sunil Narine has given up a chance to be part of West Indies' squad for their Test series against New Zealand just to play this one match, and get through four overs of bowling. Those four overs, though, always make a huge difference to Knight Riders' fortunes. Against Kings XI, however, he's not been as much of a force this season, apart from their first meeting in Abu Dhabi, where he had figures of 3 for 24. In his other two matches against Kings XI this season, he had combined figures of 8-0-60-1. Having made a difficult decision to play the final, Narine will hope he can make a big impact.
Stats and trivia
- On Sunday, either L Balaji or Yusuf Pathan will become the first player to have won the IPL three times (having played at least once in each of the title-winning seasons).
- Knight Riders have been the most frugal bowling attack during the Powerplay overs this season, with an economy rate of 6.93. Kings XI lie on the opposite end of that table, having given away 8.57 runs an over during the Powerplays. They have been the worst bowling side by far in the first six overs, with the next-worst team, Delhi Daredevils, only giving away 7.42 runs per over.
- Kings XI have been the most successful pace-bowling side in the tournament, with 69 wickets at an average of 23.45. Knight Riders' pace bowlers, in contrast, have taken 30 wickets at 38.45. The picture turns on its head while comparing the spinners, though: Knight Riders' slow bowlers have tasted the most success in the tournament, with 43 wickets at 19.91. Kings XI's spinners have 29 wickets at 26.81.
"It's amazing. It seems I have got my timing joining the IPL right! This is the same as last year, for a different team. Hopefully, my team can once again get over the line this time."
Kings XI fast bowler Mitchell Johnson on playing two successive IPL finals (he won it last year as a Mumbai Indians player)
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo