The playoffs race is so on. Seven out of the eight teams still have a realistic shot at clinching the spots, while one team is still in the fray mathematically. Here are two teams at No. 3 and 4 on the table respectively, coming into the game with wins over the weekend. A win for Royal Challengers Bangalore will not put a seal on the matter but would take them to the second position - a rather comfortable spot to be at this point - while a loss could possibly see them slip to fourth. If Kolkata Knight Riders lose, however, it could possibly make things easier for the teams below them on the table to fight for their chance, especially given their net run rate of -0.607.
Also read: KKR vs RCB fantasy picks
On Saturday, AB de Villiers put on a vintage display as he saved the Royal Challengers from the jaws of defeat against Rajasthan Royals. The Knight Riders had a new match-winner in Lockie Ferguson, who made a superb entry into the season with his express pace, delivering a fantastic Super Over win against the Sunrisers Hyderabad on Sunday. Both the teams, however, need their respective top-order batsmen to get off the blocks quicker. In fact, the Knight Riders' run rate of 7.2 in the powerplay is the second-lowest among teams this season and is also their lowest since IPL 2011.
In the news
Hours before their match against the Sunrisers Hyderabad on Sunday, the Knight Riders received the news that Sunil Narine, who was reported for suspect bowling action, has been taken off the warning list. But do they have a spot for the allrounder? He's had a sub-par season batting-wise but he has been instrumental with the ball, especially in the death overs as he showcased in his last match against the Kings XI Punjab. Chris Green and Ferguson were his replacements in the last two matches respectively. While Green had average returns against the Mumbai Indians, Ferguson was excellent with the ball, first picking up 3-15 and then a 2-2 in the Super Over against the Sunrisers. Meanwhile, Andre Russell has endured a poor season with a bat, hasn't bowled much and even hurt his hamstring in the field while bowling on Sunday. He is probably the one Narine could replace but it remains to be seen whether the Knight Riders would take the tough call.
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Shubman Gill, 2 Rahul Tripathi, 3 Nitish Rana, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Andre Russell/ Sunil Narine, 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Pat Cummins, 8 Lockie Ferguson, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Varun Chakravarthy, 11 Shivam Mavi
Royal Challengers Bangalore: 1 Devdutt Padikkal, 2 Aaron Finch, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 AB de Villiers (wk), 5 Shivam Dube/ Gurkeerat Mann, 6 Chris Morris, 7 Washington Sundar, 8 Isuru Udana, 9 Navdeep Saini/ Mohammad Siraj, 10 Shahbaz Ahmed, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal
A de Villiers special gave the Royal Challengers a big win when the teams met last week in Sharjah. On a slow pitch where every other batsman struggled to get going, de Villiers looked like he was batting on a different surface as he bludgeoned 73 off 33 balls to take Royal Challengers' total to 194. Later Chris Morris and spinners combined to strangle the Knight Riders in the chase, taking their side to an 82-run victory.
de Villiers' delayed arrival against the Kings XI, when Kohli promoted Washington Sundar and Shivam Dube up the order, did not see fruitful returns and also had an impact on the result. In the three matches de Villiers came out to bat around the 11th-12th over, he had scored three fifty-plus scores and the Royal Challengers have gone on to win all these games. In the four winnings he's walked in to bat between overs 11 to 15, he has made 234 runs and has struck at 215. Since he's been crucial in their recent wins, the Royal Challengers could strategise his entry to the crease to get the best out of their star batsman.
Should the Royal Challengers save Chris Morris for Knight Riders' middle order? Barring Eoin Morgan, the rest of the middle order comprising Nitish Rana, Dinesh Karthik and Andre Russell have been dismissed at least twice by Morris in T20s and they average less than 15 against him.
Stats that matter
Both the teams have been successful at defending targets this season. They have won four out of five matches batting first and have the joint-second highest win percentage of 80% among teams batting first this season.
With Morris' inclusion, the Royal Challengers' bowling looks a lot improved, especially in the death overs. Royal Challengers' economy at the death has come down to 8.3 runs from 13 in the last four matches he's been part of.
Ferguson is among the best fast bowlers in the middle overs in the IPL in recent years. Among quicks who have bowled 10-plus overs in the middle overs in IPL since 2017, Ferguson has the best average of 11, the best economy of 4.8 and is the only one to have conceded at an economy of less than 6.
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