With two wins and one comprehensive defeat each, the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Delhi Capitals have begun their IPL 2020 campaigns well enough to be among the top few teams. With every result causing big changes to the points table, though, only victories can ensure they remain in the top half of the table.
Both teams have earned their two victories primarily on the back of their bowling. Pat Cummins and Kagiso Rabada have hit their straps for the Knight Riders and the Capitals respectively, and both teams have bowling line-ups that more or less cancel each other out: for the Capitals' Anrich Nortje, there's the Knight Riders' Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti. Among the spinners, the combination of Axar Patel and Amit Mishra for the Capitals have made run-scoring as difficult as the Knight Riders pair of Sunil Narine and Varun Chakravarthy have
So, the way these teams will likely be separated is by who bats smarter. They are playing in Sharjah - where all four innings so far have crossed 200 - and both have their share of hard-hitters. Batting spots, therefore, could play an important role.
The cardinal sin at Sharjah would be if teams can't maximise their batting resources across 20 overs, and therefore it will be an interesting sub-plot to see if teams use their biggest hitters further up the order than usual. Even No. 4, where Rishabh Pant bats, and Shimron Hetmyer at No. 5 could be wasted that low at Sharjah for the Capitals, and in what order Narine, Andre Russell, Eoin Morgan and Dinesh Karthik bat could seal the deal for the Knight Riders.
This season, ten of the first 13 games have been won by teams batting first, but in Sharjah that stat is split down the middle with one win each for the batting and chasing side. It's also the first time both teams would be playing at this venue. Although the Capitals lost their last game - compared to the Knight Riders, who are seeking their third straight win - Shreyas Iyer's team enters the contest knowing they have won their last three meetings against Dinesh Karthik's men.
In the news
On the eve of the match, Capitals' bowling coach Ryan Harris confirmed that R Ashwin had had a full session at the nets and could be up for selection after recovering from a shoulder injury, sustained in their tournament opener. The final word on Ashwin's availability, however, remains with the medical team. The Knight Riders are injury-free.
Delhi Capitals: 1 Prithvi Shaw, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Shreyas Iyer (capt), 4 Rishabh Pant (wk), 5 Shimron Hetmyer, 6 Marcus Stoinis, 7 Axar Patel, 8 Kagiso Rabada, 9 Anrich Nortje, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Amit Mishra
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Shubman Gill, 2 Sunil Narine, 3 Nitish Rana, 4 Dinesh Karthik (capt, wk), 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Andre Russell, 7 Pat Cummins, 8 Kamlesh Nagarkoti, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Shivam Mavi, 11 Varun Chakravarthy
- In Sharjah, batsmen are going to try to send even the best bowlers for plenty. Therefore, attacking up front may be the best ploy for the later overs. Teams should try to take as many wickets early and not save their best resources for the death. That means Rabada, for example, who almost always bowls two overs at the top, could be given a third over in the powerplay.
- If the first punt is successful, though, then the Capitals should hold back at least one over from Rabada because Russell has struggled against ultra-fast bowlers, especially if they can execute the yorkers and short balls. Russell would remember that Rabada had floored him before dismissing him in the Super Over in 2019, and teams also know that Russell struggles against particular deliveries. Russell has an average of 22 against the short ball, including six dismissals in his last 28 innings, while his strike rate is just 62.16 against the yorker. However, whoever bowls to him must also be accurate because if the yorker ends up as a full toss, he hits those deliveries at a strike rate of 225.92.
- The Knight Riders may not want to open with Narine, because dot-balls can hurt teams in Sharjah more than elsewhere. Sides have slowly begun to understand that the short ball, on a leg stump line, is the way to keep Narine quiet, and off the 26 deliveries he has faced in IPL 2020, 17 (including leg-byes and dismissals) have been dot balls. It's a dangerously high number.
- The Knight Riders may opt to leave out left-arm wristspinner Yadav. He has been the least successful of their three spinners, and the Capitals have four left-handers in their top seven, which poses a poor match-up for Yadav. They could play an extra batsman since, currently, their No. 7 is Cummins. There's no real difference in economies for spinners (10.6) and pacers (11.0) in Sharjah this season, and therefore, more depth in their batting might allow their top order to bat more freely. If they do want some spin overs, Nitish Rana can bowl handy offbreaks, although they may not want to use him at all, since pacers have taken 14 wickets at an average of 39.1 in Sharjah this season, compared to spinners taking six wickets at 52.0.
Stats that matter
- When Narine has taken at least one wicket against the Delhi franchise, the Knight Riders have won 80% of their matches. And among the Capitals' top seven that played their last game, no batsman has a particularly high strike rate in T20s against him. The strike rates of Dhawan (102), Iyer (100), Stoinis (86), Patel (73) and Hetmyer (64) are especially poor, while no one has topped 129.
- Since IPL 2018, of all his IPL opponents, Russell has scored the most runs (192) and has the second-highest strike rate (211) against the Delhi franchise. In all T20s since 2019, Russell also has the best ball-per-six ratio (6.1) and has struck the most sixes (142) too.
- The Capitals have a win percentage of 87.5% when Shaw scores 25 or more runs for them. The Capitals' average score boosts up to 184 when he gets at least 25 runs. Compare that to a win percentage of 45% and an average score of 155 when he doesn't get 25.
- If they play, it will be Mishra's 150th IPL game and Rana's 50th in the IPL and 100th overall in T20s. Cummins needs one wicket to 100 T20 strikes.
Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo